DfID pledges to lead by example as it launches disability inclusion plan

Department publishes plan as independent review seeks to open up public appointments to more people with disabilities

DfID perm sec Matthew Rycroft. Photo: Baldo Sciacca

By Richard Johnstone

03 Dec 2018

The Department for International Development has pledged to set an example on disability inclusion for both the rest of government and charities as it published its first strategy for disability-inclusive development.

Setting out an action plan for the next five years, permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft said the strategy “sets us on the right path to make a profound difference to the lives of people with disabilities”.

The plan, published to coincide with UN Day of People with Disabilities, is intended to “mainstream disability inclusion in everything DfID does”, both for the charities and other bodies funded through UK aid spending, and in the department itself. It has also been published on the day the government published a review on opening up public appointments to disabled people, which called departments “to look harder and look further” to unlock the talent of disabled people.


DfID’s plan requires its delivery partners, both organisations based in specific countries and larger multinational providers, “to demonstrate their technical understanding of, and commitment to, disability inclusion"

Within the department, there will be a new, three-year people strategy that includes targets to increase the number of people with disabilities employed by DfID every year to bring the proportion of staff they represent up from 14% now to at least match the working age population (19%). The plan targets retention and career development to support an increase in staff with disabilities at senior civil service level from 9% to at least 11.9%.

There is also a pledge to develop an organisational culture where staff with disabilities are confident to work in DfID, through mechanisms such as workplace adjustments and improving the accessibility of DfID offices both in the UK and overseas.

Rycroft said that the plan “sets us on the right path to make a profound difference to the lives of people with disabilities”.

He added: “The first step is for us here at DFID to set an example. That is why it is important we set the highest standards and embed disability inclusion into our culture.

“The international development secretary [Penny Mordaunt] has been clear we expect everyone we work with to prove to us they are as committed to people with disabilities as much as we are.”

Overall, the strategy sets out action that the department will take across what it calls four pillars: inclusive education, social protection, economic empowerment and humanitarian action. It will also address three cross-cutting areas: tackling stigma and discrimination, empowering women and girls and access to assistive technology.

These strategic pillars will be used to give each DfID country office and unit new standards to review their leadership and culture, engage with people with disabilities and influence others to make improvements. These appraisals will then be used to adapt programmes and improve data and evidence to monitor progress, and all annual reviews of departmental funding will now look at the extent to which their programmes are including people with disabilities and all programmes will be marked against the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s disability inclusion and empowerment marker.

Public appointments

DfID’s plan was shared as the government published the recommendations of an independent review examining how to open up public appointments to disabled people.

The report by Lord Holmes of Richmond highlighted people who reported they had a disability made up just 3% of the total public appointees in England in 2017 and 2018. This compares poorly with Scottish public appointees (7.9%), the UK’s working-age disabled population (18.3%), and its economically active disabled population (12.9%), Holmes highlighted.

Holmes' made a number of recommendations that apply across the recruitment process for members of public bodies, from attracting and nurturing talent through to retention and remuneration.

He called for the government to set an interim target of 11.3% disabled public appointees by 2022, with a review by the end of 2019 – informed by improved data on appointments.

“The recommendations are focused on increasing the number of disabled applicants, interviewees and appointees. However, I believe that they could have general applicability and benefits in many situations, across public appointments and to all talent acquisition and recruitment practices,” Holmes said.

“Positive change requires leadership, culture and innovation and I am convinced that substantial, sustainable change is possible. It will not be easy but it is absolutely achievable. Currently, talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not. I hope this review and its recommendations will play some part in addressing this avoidable failing.”

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