UK commits to tackle the 'great neglect' of disability

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Intervention by Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Secretary of State for International Development, to the High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development

I’m really pleased to be here today. Disability has long been the poor relation amongst our development goals, indeed the great neglect of the developing world, but now we’re finally seeing this issue get the attention it needs.

The UK will play its part. As the Minister responsible for disability, within the UK Department for International Development, I am determined to make people with disabilities a key development priority.

I am very pleased to announce today that from this day forward all of the schools HMG supports must be designed to allow disability access for universal design. And as well as our support to other civil society organisations working on disability, we have also committed more funding this year to the Disability Rights fund – the only grant-making organisation to solely and directly support disabled people’s organisations in developing countries.

But this is a global challenge and it needs a global partnership to tackle it. Better data is a key priority. We need more evidence to inform our policies, we need to share what works well, as well as better understand the biggest barriers for disabled people trying to access services and opportunities. Only then will we get to the root of the problem and what we must do about it.

It’s clear that the Millennium Development Goals produced some extraordinary results for many people in many countries, and these goals focused and coordinated our development efforts.

However, as we start to develop a post-2015 framework, we can see that progress has been very uneven. People with disabilities all too often remain locked out: they lack economic opportunities, they don’t get access to key services, they are socially isolated and don’t have a voice in their communities. Women and girls with disabilities often suffer multiple discriminations and are extremely vulnerable.

It’s imperative we address this, as we reflect on lessons from the MDGs and agree successor goals. The UN’s High Level Panel reported on what these goals could look like earlier this year. And the most powerful message in this ambitious report was that we should leave no one behind – and I think that is a fantastic set of words we should use whenever we can - regardless of disability, gender, geography, ethnicity, race. No one must be denied universal human rights and basic education.

The UK played a key part in this report with our Prime Minister co-chairing the Panel - and we will be urging the UN to take up this core commitment.

Of course it’s ambitious and difficult and we’ll have to work together. The report calls for a data revolution which, if achieved, will be transformational for people with disabilities. At the moment we can’t see the scale of the problem: where we’re succeeding and who we’re leaving behind.

If we can do all of this then we have reached a turning point for people with disabilities – a watershed moment. So let’s rise to the challenge, and keep at it together. Thank you.