Foreign Aid

UK must improve its international aid efforts for disabled people

By: James Thornberry, Director of Sense International
Published: Thursday, April 10, 2014 - 14:27 GMT Jump to Comments

The needs of disabled people have been largely neglected in the UK's international aid efforts, but a new report from the International Development Select Committee aims to change this.

Today the International Development Select Committee has released a report on disability and development with a series of recommendations for DFID to consider. This is the first time that disability has been considered by the committee and indeed the needs of the disabled people have been largely neglected in the UK’s international aid efforts.

There are one billion disabled people in the world and 70 per cent live in developing countries. Disabled people in these countries are more likely to live in extreme poverty and will struggle to access education and employment which can affect the economic prospects of their entire family.

However, these aren’t the only challenges facing disabled people in developing countries. Many will encounter social stigma as a result of their disability, particularly in rural communities, as understanding and acceptance of disability can be low.

Remarkably, despite the large number of people affected by disability in developing countries, DfID has no policy or strategy on disability. As the committee referenced in their report, if an individual country had 1 billion citizens that had such low health, education and employment outcomes as disabled people, it would be high on the development agenda. 

In her evidence to the committee Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under -Secretary for development, ruled out the possibility of a strategy, citing too much paper work as a concern. 

This seems a remarkable justification for excluding such a significant group from the benefits of international development. However, this is still a key recommendation of the report and ultimately we know this works as AusAid, one of the leaders in this field, has achieved huge success by adopting this approach.

Without a dedicated team who understand the needs and challenges disabled people face, I am sceptical how much headway DfID will be able to make in this area. It is now up to DfID to consider the report and respond on which recommendations they will adopt.

One key element of this problem, which has been recognised by DfID and the committee, is the data deficit and the lack of statistical information on disability and development, hence frequently the debate stops here.

Globally, governments keep very few records on prevalence of disability and the unmet demand. Additionally, the UK government aren't keeping records or monitoring if disabled people are benefiting from its current development programmes.

Disability and development isn't an easy area to tackle. Sense International supports deafblind children and their families, and one of the challenges that we often face is identifying and finding deafblind children.

They will often be shut away from their local communities, having received no formal education and little healthcare. Actually finding these children and making sure that they can benefit from international development programmes can be extremely difficult.

This is not just limited to deafblindness but expands to other disabilities as well. This is why disability must have its own strategy and be given specialist support.

Disabled people have unique needs and we cannot expect this group to just be absorbed in general aid or international development programmes. We must instead provide targeted support that benefits this vulnerable and often forgotten group.

The DfID must take on board the committee’s recommendations and ensure that this significant group, who need support the most, benefit from the UK’s aid efforts.

This is an opportunity for the UK government to once again demonstrate leadership in the field of international development through supporting people who are frequently the most deprived and marginalised.

James Thornberry is director of international deafblind charity Sense International that supports and campaigns for deafblind people in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, India, Bangladesh, Peru and Romania.

James has worked in international development for over 20 years with organisations including Médecins Sans Frontières, CAFOD, WaterAid, and as an international civil servant with the Department for International Development.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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