Pressure mounts on Tomlinson as second DPO letter raises disability strategy concerns

The minister for disabled people has been told by 10 user-led organisations (including Disability North) of their “serious concerns and disappointment” about his efforts to engage with disabled people on the government’s proposed national disability strategy.

The letter from 10 members of the Our Voices* group of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) raises concerns about Justin Tomlinson’s “disjointed and somewhat chaotic approach” and the lack of time given to disabled people to influence the strategy through his new national survey.

It will add to growing pressure on Tomlinson, following similar concerns expressed last month by other DPOs who said they were “shocked and dismayed” by the government’s failure to engage with them.

The 10 DPOs, led by Disability Rights UK, have called on the minister to postpone the release of the strategy – currently planned for the spring – until the summer.

They say this week in their letter that the minister’s new national disability survey is “unfocused” and asks “broad questions about the experiences of disabled people” without any reference to the broad themes used in other recent attempts at engagement.

They say there is no possibility that the results of the survey could be translated into “meaningful insight” on what should be in the national strategy, and that it includes “no mention of the strategy at all” and “in no way supports genuine co production”.

They also tell Tomlinson that they are reluctant to encourage their members to take part in the survey as it is “not clear how it will support the development of the strategy”.

The letter also raises concerns about the length and accessibility of the survey and its intrusive nature.

The Our Voices group add concerns about Tomlinson’s decision to cancel the last two meetings of his new DPO Forum, just as he was supposedly seeking the views of disabled people and their organisations to feed into the strategy.

And they say they are concerned that Tomlinson has instead been consulting closely with large charities not run by disabled people, through the Disability Charities Consortium.

It adds: “Our organisations truly represent disabled people and our lived experience is sadly underutilised by government.

“We should be the first contact government make to understand the views and experiences of disabled people, with other organisations such as disability charities bringing their perspective, but not being the first port of call.”

The letter says the deadline for survey replies to feed into the strategy – 13 February – is also a “serious issue”, and they tell Tomlinson that it is “imperative that more time is allowed”.

They say the disability strategy must “reflect the lived experiences of disabled people” but that they have been “left with grave concerns about whether this will be achieved with the current approach being taken”.

The Cabinet Office had not responded to a request to comment on the letter by noon today (Thursday).

*Our Voices is a group of chief executives and policy leads of 14 DPOs – DR UK and 13 of its members – which have “come together, since the start of the pandemic, to promote the interests of disabled people and to provide mutual support to each other”.

Lynne Turnbull, its acting chair, and chief executive of Disability Positive (the new name for Cheshire Centre for Independent Living), said: “The group has been a terrific way to collaborate with other disabled people’s organisations on issues affecting disabled people during the pandemic, as well as working together to find solutions.”

The 10 members that signed the letter are Disability Rights UK, Disability North, Disability Peterborough, West of England Centre for Inclusive Living, Wheels for Wellbeing, Living Options Devon, Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living, Disability Sheffield, Breakthrough UK and Disability Positive

News provided by John Pring at 4 February 2021