FCDO 'neglecting disabled people' in international development work

MPs say gender-equality spending is monitored in a way that that disability inclusion work is not
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Photo: Google Maps

By Jim Dunton

08 Apr 2024

MPs have accused the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office of failing to place sufficient focus on the needs of disabled people in its international development work.

A report from parliament's International Development Committee said that while the UK has previously led the world in promoting disability inclusion across its development portfolio, cuts to the development budget have had "devastating consequences".

Committee members acknowledged the government has launched strategies on disability inclusion and co-founded the Global Action on Disability Network. But they also said they had heard evidence that the FCDO has not "sufficiently mainstreamed" disability inclusion across its development work.

Official Development Assistance spending on disability inclusion, as measured by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee markers, falls short of their expectations, the MPs said.

They added that while efforts to improve gender equality across development programmes are assessed against measurable spending targets, disability inclusion does not receive the same focus.

MPs said poor data-collection practices across FCDO's development work has seen multiple commitments to collect disability-disaggregated data go unmet, resulting in "a poor evidence base" that they said would "hinder the development of best practice".

The committee also said the FCDO has a "mixed record" on safeguarding people with disabilities across its development work, and that there has been "little progress" on the department's multiple pledges on ending the mass institutionalisation of children with disabilities.

Committee chair Sarah Champion said people with disabilities, especially women and girls, have borne the brunt of deep cuts to UK aid since 2021, when the proportion of gross national income spent on ODA was reduced from 0.7% to 0.5%.

She said the situation had "demonstrable, life-limiting consequences" for measurable numbers of people.

“The FCDO has paid much lip service to disability inclusion in its development programming but on the ground it’s starting to feel like the bad old days where development was done to, not with, the people impacted," Champion said.

"Actual spending on disability inclusion falls short of our expectations. Because of glaring oversights in FCDO’s planning and measurement, people with disabilities remain at constant risk of being overlooked in the climate and conflict emergencies engulfing ever more of our world."

Champion said disabled people in poorer countries would "not be reassured" to have heard international development minister Andrew Mitchell fail to give an operational definition of disability that the FCDO was happy with at an evidence session in January.

When he was asked, Mitchell told the session: "I am not sure that I can give you a particularly brilliant definition off the top of my head, but, in a way, it is a bit like the wind. You may not be able to define it, but you know that it is there and you know its effect."

He subsequently provided a definition, used by the department, that is based on a definition used in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Among their recommendations, International Development Committee members called on the FCDO to introduce department-wide targets on disability inclusion, as measured by the OECD-DAC markers, by March next year.

They are also seeking the introduction of "specific, measurable data-disaggregation policies" in the upcoming version of the Disability Inclusion and Rights Strategy delivery plan.

An FCDO spokesperson said: "We welcome the committee’s report and the acknowledgement of the UK’s role as an international leader in advancing the rights of people with disabilities globally. The UK-hosted Global Disability Summit in 2018 generated new momentum towards disability rights with over 1,000 new commitments.

"Despite having to reduce the aid budget, we continue to make progress on disability programmes, including £31m to improve access to affordable and life-changing assistive technology, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and prosthetics to improve people’s quality of life."

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