C:\Users\G.Graham\OneDrive - Federation HI\Documents\Templates and logos_1\logo_hi_en_verti_blue_rgb.jpgThe FCDO and disability-inclusive development:

Evidence from Humanity & Inclusion UK

4th September 2023


About Humanity & Inclusion


  1. Humanity & Inclusion (HI) is an international charity working with persons with disabilities and vulnerable populations in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. With programmes in more than 50 countries worldwide, we work to help meet basic needs, to improve living conditions and to promote respect for dignity and fundamental rights. Our expertise covers inclusive humanitarian action, education, livelihoods, health, rehabilitation, protection, climate change adaptation and mine action.


The adequacy of the FCDO’s Disability Inclusion and Rights Strategy as a framework for approaching disability-inclusive development


  1. To answer this question, we consulted colleagues from all our technical teams. The strong consensus was that the FCDO’s strategy is an excellent framework that covers most of the elements that we would hope to see from the UK Government. A number of us were consulted on its development and we know that good efforts were made to engage organisations of persons with disabilities in many of the FCDO’s programme countries, in a sincere and non-tokenistic way. This was good practice and reflects well on the FCDO. Overall, we think the strategy strikes the right tone and is admirable in its commitment to hearing the voices and emphasising the rights, choices and visibility of persons with disabilities throughout.


  1. However, a strategy is only ever as good as its implementation. In our experience, awareness of the strategy and engagement with it across the wider FCDO is highly variable and, overall, quite limited. This is reflected in the often very minimal treatment of disability in many of the FCDO’s other core corporate documents, most notably the International Development Strategy published in May 2022. We would like to see ministers and senior leaders across the FCDO take much more ownership of the strategy, to promote it internally and externally, and to ensure its implementation by all departments and UK posts.


  1. This sort of leadership could be transformative. We have seen in recent years how international donors have “changed the game” with respect to issues such as gender and safeguarding simply by making them explicit priorities that are reinforced at all levels over a number of years. In 2018, the UK hosted the first ever Global Disability Summit, and for a while it seemed that disability inclusion would also become a non-negotiable core priority both for the UK and for the other international donors that it had inspired through its leadership. However, without more assertive ministerial championing, we are in danger of falling short. This would be to the detriment of the 15% of the world’s population who live with a disability, especially those in the poorest places or facing the highest levels of vulnerability.


  1. There does not seem to be a strong accountability framework for ensuring the strategy’s operationalisation and a delivery plan has not been published. It is helpful that the strategy sets out commitments on the collection and analysis of disability-disaggregated data to inform evidence-based decision-making, but we have not seen much detail on how the FCDO intends to do this or to track the strategy’s implementation or measure its success. This means we have little sense of how the FCDO will know if its investments are advancing disability inclusion or how it will hold itself to account for achieving the long-term systemic change that the strategy envisions. By contrast, for example, the Australian Department for Aid and Trade (DFAT) has two disability-related indicators across which all development and humanitarian investments over $3m are measured annually.[1] The Delivery Plan should also include indicators for the commitments made at the Global Disability Summits, with clear baselines, milestones and targets.


  1. The problem of weak accountability can play out especially severely at the programme level, where organisations and consortiums competing for contracts and grants are typically highly sensitive to signals from the FCDO about which elements of programme design will or will not be given value. This means that if the FCDO does not make clear in its “early market engagement” and subsequent terms of reference or statements of requirements for new programmes that it puts explicit value on disability inclusion, then the incentives for consortiums to focus on this area are radically reduced. Making disability inclusion a donor requirement through indicators (e.g., measuring participation of persons with disabilities) would ensure that all consortium partners are responsible for advancing disability inclusion in all their actions. As an example, the initial documentation produced by the FCDO for its now-cancelled Foundational Learning for Girls (FLAG) programme in Uganda made only brief passing reference to children with disabilities (unlike in similar programmes in other countries, where disability inclusion was included as a key deliverable); this significantly weakened levels of interest in disability inclusion among the potential suppliers considering making bids for the contract.


  1. Our teams also had the following additional observations about the strategy:


-          There could be more emphasis on how to link the sectors. For example, a boy with a physical disability living in a rural area in a single-parent household with a high level of poverty needs access to social protection and health and rehabilitation services (e.g. to be fitted with a wheelchair or to access therapy) before there is a real chance to work with his family to encourage them to enrol him in school. Linkages and joint working between professionals such as social workers, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and teachers are critical. These linkages are not strongly emphasised in the strategy.


-          It is welcome that the strategy explicitly mentions people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities. However, we think the needs of these people should be emphasised further in the FCDO’s practice, in particular in their calls for proposals, tenders and partnerships.


-          On Education, it would be helpful for the FCDO to define targets for disability inclusion for the two global education targets of 40 million more girls into school and another 20 million reading at the age of 10 by 2025. It will also be important to ensure that the FCDO’s focus on girls’ education does not leave boys with disabilities inadvertently neglected.


-          On Climate, our view is that the FCDO has relatively more work to do than other areas to ensure that disability inclusion is properly considered and mainstreamed. This is acknowledged in the strategy, which describes climate work as an emerging area”. More references could have been made to global agreements that support inclusive climate-risk management and resilience, and more details could have been given about operational guidance on how to do this.


The adequacy of the FCDO’s spending on disability-inclusive programmes and the impact of cuts to ODA programmes on people with disabilities


  1. The severity of the impact of the UK aid cuts on people with disabilities has already been well attested.


-          Since the initial wave of cuts, HI has seen further reductions in UK support for key disability-focussed programmes. These include very heavy cuts to a protection programme for refugees and host-community members with disabilities in the Middle East, leading to a reduction mid-way through implementation from 5,500 beneficiaries to 3,200 beneficiaries and reduced support to the Ministries of Health and Social Development to expand and equip their rehabilitation centres (from 14 to 7 after the cuts) and early-intervention units (from 6 to 3 after the cuts).


-          HI's work to incorporate a focus on disability inclusion and mental health in to the FCDO’s Humanitarian Assistance and Resilience programme in South Sudan was brought to an unexpected end in March 2023 because of funding cuts. These cuts came after a series of short contract extensions and bridge funding that were initially planned by the FCDO to allow the activities to continue until a new successor programme could begin. They have meant HI's activities had to stop and continuity to any future programme has not been achieved. These cuts came at a time when the 2023 humanitarian needs overview shows that more than 9.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, of which approximately 1.5 million (16%) are people with disabilities. The FCDO's own equalities impact assessment shows that their cuts have negatively affected disability inclusion in South Sudan.

-          HI is part of the FCDO’s global flagship Disability Inclusive Development (DID) programme, which has received significant annual budget cuts right up to the current year. This has forced the closure of many projects and the cancellation of others that had been anticipated.


-          In addition, a number of opportunities that were being developed in various countries and that would have included disability-inclusion elements have been abruptly cancelled.


-          At the time of the initial cuts, HI was implementing five grants worth over £7 million across three countries in the Middle East that all faced a “cliff edge” in their funding. The projects had been delivering rehabilitation, mental health and psychosocial-support services to persons with disabilities, many of whom are refugees, for several years. In all three countries, the FCDO had initially indicated that new calls for proposals would be released in time to allow some of the services to continue uninterrupted; however, less than two months before the end of the grants the FCDO confirmed that there would be no continuation funding and there was no alternative to closing the projects and abruptly ending services. The loss of these critical services affected more than 18,000 people directly and over 50,000 people indirectly across the three countries over a 12-month period.


-          Abrupt cuts to the multi-country Women’s Integrated Sexual Health programme led to the closure of the programme in several countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Pakistan. Even during a negotiated cost-extension period for the remaining elements of the programme, we saw a significant cut during the final year, reducing our budget to 52% of the initial amount. This forced us to close out of Madagascar, to cut the provision of remote technical support and to lose staff that had gained skills in inclusive sexual and reproductive health work. The impact was an end to vital information and services in many countries and a sharp reduction in technical support to non-specialist organisations in how to support women and girls with disabilities.


-          HI’s economic-inclusion programmes in Bangladesh and Uganda were also abruptly cut, with just 90 days’ notice. These projects targeted ultra-poor people with disabilities, testing a new disability-inclusive poverty-graduation model. The termination of the grants affected thousands of people who were directly receiving support with livelihoods, rehabilitation and psychosocial needs. It also stalled HI’s plans to document and analyse evidence of the effectiveness of this pioneering approach to economic development, as a randomised control trial (RCT) had been planned for the final year of the project in Bangladesh. We had planned to present the findings of this RCT to governments globally to demonstrate how their social-protection and livelihood systems could be made more accessible, inclusive and effective.


-          The process by which the cuts were implemented was especially destructive. The combination of an extended period of uncertainty and the decision to implement the cuts immediately was damaging for the individuals that the projects were supporting and also for often small and fragile local organisations, government agencies in the countries of operation and the NGOs organising the work. Without time for a proper handover to local providers or services, beneficiaries of services suddenly found themselves without the support on which they had come to rely. Unexpected budget cuts mid-programme therefore meant that people with disabilities, including children, and their families suffered increased stress and anxiety, which is exactly what the strategy is aiming to reduce. The FCDO’s process appeared not to take into account the poor value-for-money implications of abruptly ending funding for long-term projects that the UK had been investing in for years. Nor did it meet the basic humanitarian principle of “Do No Harm”.


  1. The recently published FCDO partnership development programme summaries suggest that the level of the FCDO’s spending on disability-inclusive programmes is highly variable between countries. For example, the percentage of spend in 2022-23 marked as focussing on disability in South Sudan was 9%, as compared to 80% across the border in Uganda. This divergence suggests an unwelcome lack of consistency across the FCDO both in how much is spent on disability inclusion and in how such expenditure is tracked.


  1. This echoes HI’s experience, which is highly variable from country to country and programme to programme. Positive examples include the following:


-          The FCDO has shown strong commitment to incorporating disability inclusion in the design and delivery of its flagship Women’s Integrated Sexual Health (WISH) programmes, including engaging with HI as one of the disability-inclusion leads and with local organisations of persons with disabilities, and making improvements between the first and second iterations of the programme in order to strengthen disability inclusion.


-          Despite the decision not to prioritise Uganda for the next phase of WISH, the FCDO has responded positively to our message underlining the importance of ensuring a future for inclusive sexual and reproductive health services in Uganda. They have been open and receptive to our encouragement to build on the success of WISH by integrating disability inclusion into the successor to RISE, a programme aiming to reduce high fertility rates and improve sexual health outcomes.


-          In developing the upcoming Education for All programme in South Sudan, the FCDO seems to be doing a good job at improving disability-inclusion aspects; we have seen a welcome shift from a narrower focus on girls’ education in the predecessor programme to a focus on inclusive education more broadly.


-          In Jordan, it was positive to see the FCDO prioritising disability inclusion earlier this year in the technical assistance terms of reference / tender on Strengthening Societal and Economic Resilience in Jordan (SSERJ) and in the upcoming Building Resilience, Inclusion and Diversity through Girls’ Education (BRIDGE) technical assistance programme.


-          Recent FCDO climate calls such as the Climate and Ocean Adaptation and Sustainable Transition (COAST) programme make specific reference to persons with disabilities: “The Supplier will identify barriers and take appropriate actions to strengthen… support to women and girls, people with disabilities and other groups and their ability to access information.” This is to be encouraged. At country level, we have witnessed interest from the FCDO in our inclusive climate-action work.


  1. Our experience in Yemen represents a less positive example. Not only was disability almost entirely excluded from the FCDO’s humanitarian programme for NGOs in Yemen, but also there was very little information shared about the call for proposals or opportunity to engage the FCDO in the programme’s design. Following very cursory engagement with NGOs in Yemen, the FCDO team announced that all of the funding would go to just one INGO, who in turn would partner with local NGOs. Requests to discuss disability inclusion were not met, with one of the reasons given being that to hold discussions with individual agencies during the development timeframe would be unfair on other potential funding partners. This experience is indicative of a wider problem, which is that the clear value that the FCDO gains from open discussions about programme design are sometimes in tension with (a) the competitive nature of bid processes and (b) the FCDO’s bureaucratic preference for simplicity. In the case of Yemen, this led to a large proportion of the FCDO's humanitarian funding being channelled into just one INGO without any significant disability-inclusion elements.


  1. The example above has similarities with the situation in a number of other countries too. The FCDO is tending towards reducing the number of partners that it supports directly, often channelling funding through just one organisation – sometimes a UN agency and sometimes an INGO. We think this is partly intended to reduce overhead costs though it is also sometimes represented as being a means of promoting “localisation”, because the funding is then sub-contracted to local NGOs. While we very much support efforts to increase the proportion of funding that reaches local organisations, this must not come at the expense of a joined-up approach to disability inclusion. Requiring a proportion of funding to be spend on disability inclusion would help to mitigate this risk.


  1. More broadly, while the strategy requires the FCDO to “target interventions which address the specific root causes and harmful consequences of vulnerability and exclusion” in its humanitarian work, we have seen relatively little of this in many of the humanitarian contexts where the FCDO is a funder. This echoes the findings of the Equalities Impact Assessment, which showed huge cuts in some of the most pressing humanitarian crises.


The FCDO’s work to encourage and facilitate the participation of people with disabilities, and relevant advocacy groups, in developing its strategy and approach


  1. The strategy does a good job of setting out the importance of full participation of people with disabilities. Our impression is that practice in this area is mixed, though we are pleased to have seen some encouraging examples. For example, in Sierra Leone the FCDO has shown a good level of interest in meeting representatives of disability-focussed organisations, including working with HI to organise consultations with organisations of persons with disabilities and setting up regular meetings to discuss disability-related issues. In Ukraine, the deployment of a humanitarian adviser with a disability-inclusion background has made a huge difference to the quality of consultation and engagement there.


  1. One point to note is that engagement with grassroots organisations, and sometimes especially with organisations of people with disabilities, can take time. Consultation processes and meetings need to be fully accessible to people with disabilities; this includes providing physically accessible venues, using sign language or interpreters, providing materials in accessible formats and using assistive technologies as needed. There is a tension between the strategy’s emphasis on a fully participatory approach and the typically short timeframes available for developing project proposals, which make it difficult to have meaningful consultations with organisations that are often operating in remote areas and on limited budgets.


The extent to which other ODA-spending departments are ensuring that their ODA expenditure is inclusive of people with disabilities


  1. HI does not have experience of receiving funding from other ODA-spending departments.


The role of the UK in disability inclusion within the global humanitarian and development community




  1. The strategy requires the FCDO to “hold multilateral and bilateral partners accountable for applying system-wide standards for disability inclusion through dialogue and discussion as well as through results frameworks, monitoring and evaluation, risk registers and governance structures and direct support for inter-agency capacity on disability inclusion through the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Standby Partnership.” As a significant funder of humanitarian action through humanitarian pooled funds, the FCDO is in a strong position to do this. However, its record is mixed.


  1. Notable challenges in the sector include that disability-disaggregated data collection in UN-led multi-sector needs assessments is still not routine across all sectors, and, when collected, analysis is often weak and responses are not routinely adapted. In Ukraine, the active presence of disability-aware FCDO officials has contributed to a significantly increased focus from the UNHCR and the WHO in their approaches to disability inclusion. However, other FCDO humanitarian teams without this expertise are not ensuring the same level of accountability for inclusive response.


  1. The FCDO has an important role to play in pushing for both country-based pooled funds and the global Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to be managed in ways that promote disability inclusion. In this area, the FCDO’s support in establishing a disability-inclusion working group for the country-based pooled fund in Afghanistan is a welcome example. It is also encouraging to see the FCDO continue to support the global interagency ‘Disability Advisory Group’ in its monitoring of humanitarian needs overviews and humanitarian response plans with regards to disability data and overall disability inclusion through an interagency effort. However, the FCDO could do more by promoting the guidance on making multi-sector needs assessments and pooled funding allocations disability-inclusive across its cadre of humanitarian advisers. One practical measure could be to make sure that at least one of the FCDO’s humanitarian advisers has a strong disability-inclusion specialism.




  1. In the run-up to the high-level meeting on universal health coverage (UHC) in September 2023, the FCDO has been playing an important role in ensuring that previous gains made on disability inclusion through the 2019 UHC Political Declaration are not diluted.




  1. The UK provides welcome support to efforts to improve data collection and disaggregation on disability-related issues in education, through Edtechhub among others. We are hopeful that the UK will sign and promote the call to action on disability-inclusive education. This requires signatories to set a medium- to long-term target to ensure all learners with disabilities are reached in all education programmes, recognising that at least 10% of learners in any country will be learners with disabilities. It also requires signatories to ensure that all education data, from early childhood through to tertiary and vocational education and training, is fully disaggregated by gender and disability.


Safeguarding issues within disability inclusion that should be prioritised in the FCDO’s work tackling sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector


  1. On this issue, HI echoes the wider view of the Bond Disability and Development Group that the FCDO should ensure disability-inclusive safeguarding principles are routinely embedded in due diligence, reporting requirements and quality standards for all FCDO-funded work. It should also use disability-inclusive safeguarding audits to review all its programmes and to mitigate disability-specific risks that will arise during mainstreaming efforts that have not fully budgeted for disability inclusion. This will involve investing in data collection to better understand how best to safeguard children, youth and adults with disabilities.


  1. In addition, the FCDO should use its global leadership in forums such as the Global Action on Disability (GLAD) Network to encourage strict adherence by all donors to inclusive safeguarding standards.


The FCDO’s learning from other approaches and global work on disability inclusion


  1. Our impression is that the central disability team in the FCDO does a good job of learning from other approaches and global work on disability inclusion. We echo our colleagues in the Bond Disability and Development Group in saying that the FCDO-funded Disability Helpdesk is a commendable aspect of the organisation’s evidence-based approach to disability inclusion. We also welcome the FCDO’s funding for the GLAD Network Secretariat, which coordinates working groups that provide valuable forums to for sharing learning.


  1. However, we are not confident that thinking and learning about disability inclusion is sufficiently widespread across other parts of the FCDO, both in Whitehall and in posts. The FCDO’s success in implementing its strategy would be considerably enhanced if it is accompanied by a comprehensive and compulsory programme of training for relevant staff both in the UK and in country offices around the world.


Summary of recommendations


-          Ministers and senior leaders across the FCDO should take much fuller ownership of the strategy, promoting it internally and externally, and ensuring its implementation by all departments and UK posts

-          Disability inclusion should be systematically included in all major humanitarian and development funding commitments, with people with disabilities and their representative organisations routinely consulted on strategy development, programme design and implementation

-          More funds need to be invested in disability inclusion in order to deliver the strategy and to achieve its ambition

-          A delivery plan should be published with clear targets, indicators and timelines; this should include measures to track delivery of the commitments made at the Global Disability Summit

-          Renewed effort should be made to ensure a robust and consistent approach to the collection and publication of disaggregated data across all FCDO programmes

-          Training on disability inclusion should be mandatory for relevant leadership and advisory positions, and all major FCDO posts and humanitarian teams should systematically include at least one staff member with a disability-inclusion specialism

-          Efforts to promote disability inclusion in humanitarian needs assessments and response plans should be increased and guidance on making humanitarian multi-sector needs assessments and pooled funding allocations disability-inclusive should be promoted across the FCDO’s cadre of humanitarian advisers

-          The different needs of people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities should be emphasised further in the FCDO’s practice, in particular in their calls for proposals, tenders and partnerships

-          Targets on disability inclusion should be defined for the two global education targets of 40 million more girls into school and another 20 million reading at the age of 10 by 2025

-          The UK should endorse and champion the call to action on disability-inclusive education

-          More work should be done to ensure that disability inclusion is properly considered and mainstreamed in the FCDO’s climate investments

-          Lessons should be learned from the disastrous impact of the recent aid cuts; the FCDO’s budget should be managed in a way that prevents programmes ever being cut or cancelled at such short notice again

[1] These are (1) the extent to which the investment actively involves people with disabilities and/or disabled people’s organisations in planning, implementation and monitoring and evaluation and (2) the extent to which it identifies and addresses barriers to inclusion and opportunities for participation for people with disabilities to enable them to benefit equally from the aid investment.