Cautious welcome for government’s disability plan which aims to make UK ‘most accessible nation’

he UK government has announced details of its new Disability Action Plan which includes 32 steps it claims will make the UK the most accessible place in the world for disabled people to 'live, work and thriveThe UK government has announced details of its new Disability Action Plan which includes 32 steps it claims will make the UK the most accessible place in the world for disabled people to ‘live, work and thrive’. The publication of the Disability Action Plan is part of the government’s stated intention to improve the lives of millions of disabled people. This has included seeing 1.3 million more disabled people in work now than in 2017, which the government claims is delivering a commitment five years early.

The government says it has also increased funding for the education of children and young people with more complex needs by more than 50 percent over the past 4 years, and we have passed 2 landmark pieces of legislation – the British Sign Language (BSL) Act and the Down Syndrome Act. From helping to ensure more disabled children can use their local playground to supporting assistance guide dog users and aspiring disabled politicians, the Disability Action Plan outlines concrete changes designed to make a real difference now and in the future.

Specific actions include:

  • a new fund to support disabled people who want to be elected to public office
  • building an online information hub for local authorities on creating accessible playgrounds
  • a new working group to educate businesses on the legal rights of assistance dog owners and make it simpler to report when they are refused access to a business
  • leading new research into emerging issues affecting disabled people in the UK over the next 20 years

Responding to the publication of the plan, Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum, said: “We welcome the publication of the Disability Action Plan and many of the proposals set out within it. We are particularly pleased to see the mention of our “Technology for Life” concept which we believe could transform opportunities for disabled people throughout their lives. Now, we are calling on the Government to go further and to commit funding to make assistive tech available for everyone who needs it.

“We are also pleased to see the expansion of the remit of guide dogs to include assistance dogs. This is an area of immense importance to our Members, and something we have fed into Government on numerous occasions. We are also pleased to see a commitment to getting better data to measure disabled people’s daily life experiences and we will continue to work with Government on these data methodologies.

“There are actions to increase disabled people’s access to products and services across sectors, which we welcome, but we are unclear how businesses have been and will be involved. The absence of businesses’ voice in this space is a glaring oversight.

“We also question the omission of employment from the Action Plan. Work – good work – is a key life opportunity which at the moment is out of reach of far too many disabled people. For people who can work, good work can drive inclusion and a sense of identity as well as bring financial security. To make work a reality for more disabled people, we need greater investment in vital programmes such as Access to Work, yet this is missing from today’s Action Plan. We also need to see urgent reform to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) to allow people to make a phased return to work. The current ‘all or nothing’ approach to SSP means that employees often feel forced to return to full hours before they are ready, which can then lead to further periods of sickness.

“The Disability Action Plan sets out an ambition to make the UK the most accessible place in the world. This can only happen if employment is made a reality for more disabled people.” Go to Business Disability Forum’s Disability Action Plan page for further information about Business Disability Forum’s asks.

The Cabinet Office’s Disability Unit will also be working with other government departments to explore bidding to host and deliver the 2031 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

Further Disability Action Plan pledges include:

  • ensuring disabled people’s experiences are fully taken into account during resilience planning for emergencies
  • publishing research into the accessibility of private sector products and services in Spring 2024
  • holding a conference on climate adaptation and disability
  • addressing concerns that the Ultra Low Emission Zone and Clean Air Zones have led to some disabled people feeling excluded from city centres and across London

The Disability Action Plan sits alongside the National Disability Strategy which outlines the government’s long-term vision for transforming disabled people’s lives for the better. The government claims this also builds on its employment and welfare reforms – including the new £2.5 billion Back to Work Plan which will help thousands more disabled people and people with health conditions to start and thrive in work. It also claims its Chance to Work Guarantee will ‘tear down barriers by getting rid of the fear of reassessment that we know many disabled people who want to try work still face’.