Will the Disability Action Plan bring change for disabled people?

The houses of parliament and big ben, viewed from an elevated angle

This week the government has published its new Disability Action Plan.  First announced in December 2022, this plan sets out some of the proposals the government has for tackling inequalities faced by disabled people.  The government is consulting on these proposals and people can feedback their views until 6th October.

We know that people with complex disabilities, including people who are deafblind, face daily inequalities.  At Sense we want to see no one left out of life and so we are interested to see the plan and what it sets out.

What’s in the plan?

The good news is, there are some proposals in the plan that we think are positive.  Many of these, if implemented well, could make a significant impact on the lives of people with complex disabilities.  These include:

  • More support for disabled people to take part in politics: the plan acknowledges that representation of disabled people in politics is low and that more needs to be done to tackle this.  Our recent research shows that disabled people face barriers to voting and engaging with politicians – a quarter of people with complex disabilities who voted in the last election told us it was difficult to do so.  We believe that having more opportunities and support for disabled people to enter politics is a key part of leading change.  As one person in our research told us; “[Government should] make getting in touch with politicians much more accessible and include us in discussions. We are a massive part of society but never included.”
  • Making playgrounds more accessible: included in the plan are proposals to provide more information and resources on how to design playgrounds so that disabled children can use them.  Our public inquiry on play in 2014 highlighted the importance of accessible play opportunities for disabled children.  Accessible play opportunities are important for disabled children, their non-disabled siblings and their parents so they can play together and with their friends.
  • Educating business and services in disability awareness: the government plan includes proposals to increase understanding and awareness of disability to make communities more accessible.  Over two thirds of people with complex disabilities face difficulties when socialising.  38% of people tell us that this is because of people’s attitudes towards them and 29% people say it’s because of inaccessible locations.  Plans to tackle this are welcome but the key thing for us will be how the experiences of disabled people are included in this to make real change happen rather than it being a tick box exercise.
  • Raising the profile of assistive technology: we know that assistive technology plays an important role in the lives of many disabled people.  But it’s expensive, difficult to get and often not well known about.  Our recent employment research highlights this, with 31% of jobseekers with complex disabilities telling us having assistive tech in their jobcentre would help them find work.  Steps to raise the profile of assistive technology are welcome but they need to matched with funding and policy change on areas like Access to Work. 
  • A taskforce for disabled children: for many years we’ve said that there needs to be more joined up policy making for disabled children.  Disabled children and their families fall through the gaps in systems, policies and decision making.  This is something that we’ve raised in recent consultations on children’s social care and at every opportunity we have.  The plan sets out an idea to create a taskforce to look at the lives of disabled children.  This would be a welcome idea, but we need to see more details on how this will work and make lasting change. 
  • More data on the lives of disabled people: the plan includes a recognition that the government needs more and better data on the lives of disabled people.  It also talks about the need for the experiences of disabled people to be used when evaluating policy change.  This is key if we’re looking to deliver meaningful change.  The lack of data available is one of the reasons that we’ve started our own research programme at Sense.   

Good ideas but there are some gaps

Whilst the Disability Action Plan contains some potentially good ideas, there are some big gaps in the proposals.  Our recent research found that the top priorities for the future for people with complex disabilities are financial security, tackling loneliness and being more independent.  What’s listed in the plan make some steps towards this but aren’t a cohesive set of actions to bring change now. 

The top concern for disabled people right now is the cost of living crisis – 85% of people with complex disabilities are worried about the rising cost of living.   Over half of people with complex disabilities (59%) find it very or somewhat difficult to afford their energy bills. This is higher than general public (42%).   

The proposals in the plan do little to address the issues facing disabled people now.

Timing is everything

The proposals are now out for consultation with 12 weeks for people to respond.  Whilst we welcome the fact that disabled people are being consulted, we have concerns about the feasibility for the plans to make it into action.   The consultation closes in October so it’s realistic to assume that work on delivering some of the proposals in the plan won’t really start until 2024.  With this being an election year, how much time is there really going to be for this plan to become a reality?

Over to us

Now the plan has been published it’s time to start pulling together our responses.  At Sense we’ll be using our Potential and Possibility research to help us to respond.  We’ll also be sharing the consultation with the people who we support so that they can respond if they want to.