Next week the UK Government Department for International Development (DfID) will host a ‘Disability Summit’, with the express aim of putting disability at the heart of international development. DfID is a world leader on international development, and more recently on disablity inclusive development. Disability inclusive development make sense given – as in the UK – disabled people form a disproportionately high percentage of all living in poverty globally. It is not a matter of ensuring that implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals reaches disabled people; it’s a fact that the goals will not be reached unless disability is at the very heart of how they are implemented. Fusing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) with the SDGs offers a clear pathway for achieving this. DfID should be celebrated for showing such leadership.
However, given the impact of austerity measures and reforms on disabled people’s rights here in the UK, and the damning verdict of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities following its examination of the UK in 2017, it is quite understandable that UK disability activists are intent on highlighting the UK government’s credibility gap as the host of this summit. It is not only the retogressive impact of these specific measures on disability rights in the UK that creates this credibility gap, is it also the clear failure domestically to create policy coherence between the UK’s approach to ‘development’ (as in policy related to addressing disability related poverty) and the promotion of human rights and equality of opportunity.
There are, I guess, various ways UK organisations can harness the summit to highlight this credibility gap. Some will protest the summit itself, while others are organising a parallel summit to debate these issues. Others are taking part in the summit and plan to use their platform to both embrace and celebrate DfID’s agenda, while highlighting the negative journey in the UK. It will be interesting to see whether it plays out in a similar way to, for example, how the deporation of members of the Windrush generation gathered media attention as a result of the issues being spotlighted during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Perhaps most productive would be the see the summit as an opportunity to put the SDGs on the domestic map. The UK government is of course already subject to the SDGs. Unlike the predecessor Millenium Development Goals, the SDGs are designed to be truly universal, but from my vantage point have yet to play any significant part in domestic debates about disability-related poverty or rights. Rather than just emphasising a credibility gap to strive to embarass the government, why not propose a clear agenda for closing it, asking the UK government to set forth a programme of disability inclusive development here at home in order to be the change it purports to seek in the wider world?