FCDO must keep disability inclusion a priority

Gemma Hope

Gemma Hope, our Director of Policy, outlines what we want to see from the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) when it comes to disability inclusion.

Anne, who we support through one of our inclusive education projects in Zambia

Coronavirus has occupied the headlines this year. So it was easy to overlook one significant change in UK policy and politics. A change which could have a considerable impact on the lives of people with disabilities. This is the merger of the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO).

The newly formed Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) opened its doors early September. And many people, including those it supports, are wondering what this new collaboration will mean for UK Aid funding.

Why UK Aid is so vital

UK Aid has played an essential role in disability inclusion around the world. The UK, with leadership from DFID, has truly been a global champion in tackling poverty. As well as helping prioritise people with disabilities in the workplace, with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in mind. This work is crucial in ensuring no one is left behind in global development. This is especially crucial when it comes to people with disabilities. 

Some of our most impactful global projects would not be possible without the support of UK Aid. The Girls’ Education Challenge inclusive education project has supported over 2,000 girls to attend primary school in Kenya. Our Innovation to Inclusion (i2i) project aims to improve employment opportunities for 10,000 people with disabilities in Kenya and Bangladesh. And in South Sudan, we’re working with a consortium to transform the lives of children. The project will ensure that their education continues beyond primary school. 

Our projects aim to address some of the challenges and barriers people with disabilities face every day. Back in 2018, the UK – and DFID – made essential commitments to improving opportunities for people with disabilities. This was part of its first-ever Disability Inclusion Strategy. As we move into a new era with the FCDO, it is vital these promises do not fall to the wayside. 

Disability Inclusion Strategy

Adoption of the Disability Inclusion Strategy by the FCDO is vital as the new department sets out its priorities. With this strategy in place, the UK can continue to prove its world-class leadership in disability. This strategy can ensure people with disabilities are included in development strategies and disaster responses, like the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2019, the UK renewed its commitment to girls’ education so that girls around the globe can receive 12 years of quality education. Moving forward, girls with disabilities must be at the heart of these plans. In many countries, girls with disabilities are one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups.

Without inclusive education programmes in place, opportunities for social inclusion and economic empowerment are significantly harmed. Controlled learning environments offer girls with disabilities safe environments. These are environments where they are supported to achieve their fullest potential.

The impact of our work

Disability rights advocate Maria Njeri was a lead citizen reporter on our 2030 and Counting project. She is a passionate advocate for the value of UK Aid and the importance of inclusive education. 

“Disability-inclusive strategies are so important. They can have a life-changing impact. They support people with disabilities into education, employment and society. Had more disability-inclusive programmes been around when I was younger, my school experience could have been very different.”

Maria experienced stigma and discrimination about her disability throughout her school life. There was a lack of understanding from both students and teachers about her abilities. Meaning she was often left out and missed out on extracurricular activities. Inclusive education programmes could have had a significant impact on Maria’s school experience.

Better training for teachers and access to reasonable adjustments, Maria’s needs would have allowed for her needs to be met. Better integrating her with her peers. Maria has gone on to be a very successful activist with her own foundation – the Njeri Maria Foundation. But this is not the reality for many girls with disabilities who also had no access to the support they needed in schools.

We need accountability

We also need to make sure the proper accountability mechanisms are in place to track how UK Aid is spent. A specialist select committee for Aid spending would help in that regard. Acting as a scrutinous eye on behalf of the taxpayer. But also ensuring people with disabilities are included as part of expenditures.

We have made so much progress with disability inclusion in recent years, with the UK in the driver’s seat. The new FCDO must keep its finger on the pulse to ensure this hard work is not undone. 

The FCO has historically led on the implementation of human rights treaties. The rights of people with disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) must be at the heart of everything the new FCDO does.