Put disabled and older people at the heart of international development

9 September 2015

We, along with Age International, called for disabled and older people to be put at the heart of international development at the House of Lords today.

Our chief executive Clare Pelham and Age International's Chris Roles spoke to an audience of parliamentarians, parliamentary research staff, Department for International Development (DfID) civil servants and civil society.

‘This week everyone and their neighbour is an expert on overseas aid. Last week (and again today, as it transpires) it was top athletes allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs: but that’s another story.

‘But it really is time to stop the talking. I believe in justice. It’s easy to talk about and hard to deliver and one reason for that — among many — is that very few people believe in practical justice.

I’ve lost count of the hours of endless meetings I’ve sat through — including, forgive me, many eminent international development gurus all with 30 minutes of opinions on the theory and doctrine of justice. And quite honestly I’m sick of it. 

‘Don’t get me wrong. I would do almost anything to make the world a better place for disabled people. But I’m sick of those meetings, because the end result is that nothing changes. 

‘And that’s why I’m interested in the Sustainable Development Goals. The UN’s SDGs — being debated in the House of Commons this week and set to be agreed when international development is discussed in New York later this month — are the doorway to change.

‘Sometimes the way people talk, you’d think that drafting the SDGs had solved world poverty or something. All they are today is words on a piece of paper. Nothing will change for disabled people unless someone shows leadership by pushing that door open and making a practical difference on the ground. Delivering some practical justice on the ground. 

‘And why is that so needed? This is a forum for well-informed people and I will not try your patience by rehearsing statistics. But perhaps for once let us re-focus from the global and the mind-stretching number, to the single person.

‘Who is the poorest person in the world? That is a powerful question isn’t it? Because, if we knew, then we would turn first to help them. Well, I know the answer to that question. And so do you. The poorest person in the world is a disabled girl in a developing country. And that’s why we need practical justice – so we can help her. 

‘Disabled people are among the poorest people on the planet. 

‘They are poorer in terms of wealth. 

‘And also poorer in health. And also in education. And in getting and keeping a job. I could go on. 

‘In developing countries 80% of disabled women are unemployed. It’s wrong. 

‘And that is the unique opportunity for Britain. Because our great gift is practical help. Not theory. Not seminars. Not talking-shops. But practical help. 

‘And we know what works. We have through the great generosity of the British taxpayer and the great leadership of David Cameron led the way with our 0.7%. DfID now has a casebook of what works. 

‘At Leonard Cheshire Disbility, we know that disabled people must be able to support themselves, and support their families. This is crucial. 

‘Our learning resource centres build the skills and confidence of disabled people, through training and support packages. We work with the private sector and governments to create new opportunities for disabled people to succeed in work or to launch successful enterprises of their own. 

‘Neha Sharma in India, for example, an ambitious young woman who was disabled at the age of two after being hit by a tractor, received support and training from one of our resource centres that helped her secure a dream job at IBM. 

‘And that brings me onto my second — and final — point. Because while many of us will fight for disabled people and others on the grounds of justice alone — we have another and powerful weapon in our armoury. And that is wealth creation. 

‘By all means let us urge governments to follow the UK example of 0.7%, and the DfID disability framework, solely on the grounds that it is the right thing to do. 

‘And let us not forget that we are the only major country in the world that has kept the promise to spend 0.7% of our GDP on aid. 

‘But if that’s not sufficient, let’s deploy the untapped economic energy of excluded disabled people. We know in Britain that you cannot have a thriving economy without inclusion of all the talent. That is a central premise of the government’s programme, Disability Confident. It’s in the economic interest of the employer, and the economy as a whole, for all talent to be deployed — to the greater good of all people. 

‘And it is that experience of funding inclusive development overseas and advocating for it at home that gives David Cameron the authority to speak out at the SDG summit and urge others to follow the UK leadership on this. 

‘To follow on 0.7%. To follow on the focus on disabled people. To follow on economic growth. And a very good place to start would be for the Prime Minister to convene a high-level donor meeting that gives governments, foundations, multilateral organisations and civil society the opportunity to commit time, resources and energy that will deliver practical change for disabled people. 

‘Within my lifetime it was unthinkable that there would be a woman Chief Executive of a FTSE 100 company, or a woman Prime Minister or — arguably even harder — a woman Supreme Court Judge. And now each and every one of those milestones has been passed. Indeed, I now regularly go to conferences and summits where all the speakers are women. And no one even notices. 

‘I’m not saying the fight for female equality is fully won yet. But wouldn’t it be nice to look forward to a UN Summit where 14% — the proportionate number — of the speakers were disabled. And no one even noticed. It may seem like a distant dream. But actually I think with the right leadership we can achieve it. And we will achieve it.’— Clare Pelham, Chief Executive, Leonard Cheshire Disability

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