“I am determined to establish DFID as the global leader in this neglected and under prioritised area – people with disabilities must be at the heart of our work to build a more prosperous and secure future, which is in all of our interests. I will be working with governments, NGOs, multilaterals, businesses and individuals to ensure that nobody is left behind.”
On Monday 5th December the Secretary of State of International Development, Priti Patel, made this promising commitment to the disability and development work within DFID and its sphere of influence. Patel was speaking at an event on education and disability, organised by the Bond Disability and Development Group (of which RESULTS UK is a member) to celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
This is considerable step forward for all those who have been working on disability and development in the past few years, which includes many RESULTS UK campaigners.
For those watching her speech, Patel’s strong commitment to improving the lives of disabled people around the world was bold, but welcomed. When she first looked at the disability figures, after taking up the ministerial role five months ago, Patel was reported to have found them “staggering”. She’s right: there are one billion disabled people in the world, 80% of them in developing countries.
In recent years, disability has become an increasingly prominent part of DFID’s development agenda, yet progress is still slow and uneven. In 2014, DFID launched a Disability Framework, a laudable sign that the department was starting to take disability seriously. The document outlined a grand vision for UK aid to become inclusive, as well as a practical living document which details work that will be done at DFID, by DFID staff, to turn the vision into a reality.
However, in her speech last week, Patel stated that the department’s current framework “does not go far enough”, a bold assertion that signals a definite break from past practice. Since Patel's appointment, disability is starting to appear in significant DFID planning documents and even in funding opportunities for NGOs and others.
This enthusiasm was also evident in the review of DFID’s bilateral work (which explains the plan for their work in their country offices and directly with developing country governments), published a couple of weeks ago, which included the following statement: "My Department will in particular strengthen our work in disability". It also includes a vision for DFID’s work in the future - a world where no one is held back by their disability (gender, ethnic group etc) and a promise to maintain their commitment to be a "global authority on disability data".
What is going to be important now is that this commitment does not just result in exciting moments but also leads to disability inclusion being embedded throughout the work of the department and the programmes it supports. RESULTS UK will continue to work with NGOs, academics and others to ensure that DFID's promise becomes a reality for million of disabled people around the world.