Disability is an urgent development issue. Around one billion peopleor 15% of the world's populationare disabled. Disabled people are often the poorest of the poor. They are stigmatised and face discrimination in many formsfrom a lack of access to basic services, to violence and abuse. This discrimination has serious repercussions for families, communities and ultimately national economies. It prevents disabled people sharing in many of the gains of international development work, and has been a major barrier to meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has shown international leadership in calling for "no-one [to be] left behind" in the next global development framework. The proposed framework explicitly mentions disabled people and recommends indicators to measure their inclusion. The UK should keep up the pressure for these proposals not to be diluted as the final framework is negotiated.
If the UK is to have authority during these negotiations, it should lead by example, matching its post-2015 aspirations with a strong commitment to disabled people in its own development programming. DFID has some impressive programmes, reinforced by recent initiatives by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Lynne Featherstone MP. However, these programmes are small relative to DFID's total work. A more ambitious commitment to disabled people from a donor of DFID's size and influence could have a transformational impact.
An ambitious commitment will take time to realise. We would not expect DFID to alter all its programmes immediately, and recommend it take a phased approach, selecting some sectors and countries to focus on first. DFID should ensure its commitment can be sustained even as governments change and key individuals move on. To do this, it will need a disability strategy with clear targets and timescales; a larger team with a senior sponsor; and strong reporting processes to ensure accountability.
As a major donor, DFID is in a strong position to influence its partners' policies on disability. It spends more than half its budget through multilateral agencies, and should make it a requirement that their programmes reach disabled people. Such agencies are also critical to DFID's humanitarian work. Disabled people face particular problems in emergenciesboth in getting to safety, and in accessing relief. DFID's partners must address these problems as a priority, and DFID should put in place training and incentives to ensure they do so.
DFID rightly sees disability as a matter of equal rights and discrimination, not just a medical issue. We agree this should be the focus of its disability work. Nonetheless, there are significant development gains to be made by treating and preventing the conditions that cause disability.Yet treatment and prevention make up only a small part of DFID's current health work: it should urgently review its spending in these areas, where it risks missing important opportunities.The prevention of disabling injuries should also be a priority in DFID's major infrastructure investments such as road building.
Finally, and crucially, DFID should ensure disabled people have a central role in its work. It should step up its support for disabled people's organisations. It should also ensure disabled people participate fully in the design and delivery of DFID's own programmes. The more visible disabled people are in development work, the easier it will be to reverse the damaging patterns of discrimination that have, for so long, left disabled people behind.