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Global Disability Summit

A disability activist in Bangladesh

Global Disability Summit: 2 years on.

Where we are and where we need to go.

It is two years since the Global Disability Summit hosted by the UK, Kenya and the International Disability Alliance. The summit was a critical moment for disability inclusion, drawing global attention. Two years on, COVID-19 has thrown political priorities, health systems and economies into freefall. History tells us that the needs of disabled people are often the first to be discarded. How do we sustain momentum for disability rights and build on the hard-fought-for gains in the struggle for equality?

COVID-19 threatens to hit those with disabilities hardest. Disabled people living in poverty in Africa and Asia are disproportionately at risk due to stigma, discrimination and fragile health systems. They are acutely unprepared for the devastation COVID-19 is going to cause.

At the Global Disability Summit the UK government made a global promise to people with disabilities - now it must honour it.

What the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office does next matters enormously. By placing disability inclusion at the heart of its COVID-19 response and aid programmes the government sends a clear message that its inclusion policy is not just words, but life-saving action.

Dominic Raab has spoken about how Global Britain should be a “force for good”. The merging of an independent DfID into the FCO provides an opportunity to put this into action. But it will not be easy: this week, due to a decline in the UK’s Gross National Income, the Government announced it will also cut its 2020 aid budget by £2.9 billion. If the Government is to make the most of the opportunity of the merger, it must back up its political commitment on disability with the hard legwork of expert programming, transparent reporting, and data analysis.

Learning from the past few years. Building for the future.

The new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office can learn from how DFID spent the UK’s aid budget and adopt its Disability Inclusion Strategy, retain its best disability experts, and maintain scrutiny and transparency over how aid is spent. It could go further too: by placing disability inclusion at the heart of foreign policy and the pursuit of peace, the new FCDO could help bring an end to conflicts, promote human rights, and use diplomatic efforts to encourage other governments to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A global leader for disability equality.

In recent years, the UK has done much to champion international action on disability. A new Disability Inclusion Strategy at the Department for International Development (DfID) led to better involvement of people with disabilities in the UK’s aid projects. The UK chaired the influential Global Action on Disability Network and has pushed institutions like the UN and World Bank to do better. In its own programming, DfID made huge progress in breaking down data to better understand whether its aid projects were actually reaching those with disabilities. According to DfID’s own data, disability inclusion is now a significant objective for 35% of its aid spending.

We must keep pushing forwards.

Those of us who work in disability inclusion have often found ourselves justifying why someone should include people with disabilities in their work. This is slowly changing.

We are having more conversations about how to achieve disability inclusion in practice. Years of under investment in disability inclusion means that there isn’t always compelling evidence on what works (although there is often more than people think) – particularly at scale. So organisations need to be willing to work with the evidence that is there, test what works and document and share it for others to learn from.

Progress has been made, but if we take off the pressure now, then very little will actually change in the lives of people with disabilities by 2030. The case for inclusion should now have been well and truly made, but we all need to work together to keep pushing to make sure it becomes a reality.

The darkest days of COVID-19 are likely to hit those least equipped to endure them and undo the hard-fought gains for the disability movement. From the health implications to the economic fallout. The world simply cannot afford for the UK to surrender its leadership role now - just when they need it most.