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No definition, no delivery plan and deep aid cuts leave “major shortcomings” in FCDO’s disability-inclusion work - and leaves disabled people at major risk

4 April 2024

80% of people with disabilities live in low and middle-income countries. Children with disabilities are twice as likely never to attend school, three times more likely to be underweight and four times more likely to experience physical violence. More than half of the 65 million children with disabilities worldwide were not in education prior to the onset of the covid-19 pandemic, no doubt making matters much worse for many of them.

Just 20% of women with disabilities are employed. For those excluded from employment, only 8.6% of people with severe disabilities in low-income countries receive any form of social protection benefit. People with disabilities experience poverty at more than twice the rate of those without disabilities and are disproportionately impacted—by up to two to four times—by climate change.

Almost one-fifth of women have a disability worldwide: they face significant barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights and are more likely to have their bodily autonomy and reproductive rights violated, including forced sterilisation and contraception, or conversely denial of access to contraception. Women with disabilities are up to 10 times more likely to experience gender-based violence, while up to 70% experience sexual abuse before they turn 18.

People with disabilities are significantly more at risk of sexual exploitation as well as other forms of exploitation. But the Committee is not convinced that the FCDO is doing all it can to properly safeguard people with disabilities in its programming - described by some witnesses as an “afterthought for programme managers”. There has been little progress reported against FCDO’s multiple pledges on ending the mass institutionalisation of children with disabilities.

Impact of deep cuts to the UK aid budget on people with disabilities

Against this backdrop, last summer the IDC published the FCDO’s own grim assessment of the impact of deep cuts to the UK aid budget on people with disabilities, marginalised people, women and girls. The foreseen, disproportionate impact of aid cuts on these groups has left stakeholders in the sector dubious about the sustainability of the UK's previously leading role in international development going forward.

Asked in evidence in Parliament, the International Development Minister seemed unsure even of the operational definition of disability adopted by the FCDO: “I am not sure that I can give you a particularly brilliant definition off the top of my head, but, in a way, it is a bit like the wind. You may not be able to define it, but you know that it is there and you know its effect.”

Stakeholders noted that Organisations of Persons with Disabilities are consulted arbitrarily and without obligation, making it all too common that policy decisions affecting people with disabilities are made without their direct input. Disability inclusion hasn’t been sufficiently integrated even into the FCDO’s own policy-making procedures, while the Disability Inclusion and Rights Strategy receives little to no mention across other departmental strategies. Disability inclusion does not appear to be at the forefront of Government thinking.

Beyond “routine” programming, the Committee also heard that Government does not pay enough attention to the needs of people with disabilities in its planning for humanitarian responses, or in climate adaptation. Despite the increasing impact of climate change and the constant and growing threat of conflict, the FCDO’s approach risks persons with disabilities being overlooked at times of crisis.

Chair's comment

International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion MP, said:

“People with disabilities, especially women and girls, are bearing the brunt of deep cuts to UK aid with demonstrable, life-limiting consequences for measurable numbers of people.

“The FCDO has paid much lip service to disability-inclusion in its development programming but on the ground it’s starting to feel like the bad old days where development was done to, not with, the people impacted. Actual spending on disability inclusion falls short of our expectations. Because of glaring oversights in FCDO’s planning and measurement, people with disabilities remain at constant risk of being overlooked in the climate and conflict emergencies engulfing ever more of our world.

“People in lower-income countries living daily with both the impact of their disability and of cuts to UK aid programmes would not be reassured to hear the responsible minister characterise their experience as “like the wind” - with no proper definition or plans to direct programming and funding, or to assess value and outcomes. By September next year the Government must regularly report to this Committee progress on disability inclusion against internationally-recognised targets.”

Further information

Image: UK Parliament / Tyler Allicock