Fulfilling what potential? UK disability policy.

Today I had a presentation in the Centre for Disability studies seminar series, organised by the Law department, where there are many brilliant disability studies scholars. My seminar was kind of a work-in-progress one where I presented preliminary findings from my policy analysis of UK disability and sexuality-related laws and policies. In this post I focus on the UK disability strategy Fulfilling Potential – Improving the lives of disabled people (hereafter FP).

FP aims at promoting independent living and equality and making it possible for disabled people to ‘realise their aspirations’. Prioritised areas include Education, Employment, Income, Health and well-being, Inclusive communities, and Choice and control (over services). Every are has prioritised outcomes and actions that are monitored.

As part of the policy process, which was headed by The Office for Disability Issues (under the Department of Work and Pensions), disabled people’s organisations and disabled people were invited to give their thoughts on issues to include (Discussions so far). Following the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, one question was related to Article 23: Respect for home and the family. Disabled people’s organisations did not give a response, but an individual did:

Access to information and support to understand about personal relationships and sexuality. Recognition of my human needs for friendships, relationships, partnerships or marriage: the legislation, policy and guidance to support this aspiration (Individual response)

The Government’s response to this issue raised was that it ‘believes that the right to marry, or have a civil partnership, is both a civil and human right; and that local systems should enable practice that supports the individual’s choice with regard to forming and sustaining relationships’ – a statement that does not move beyond simply stating the rights. Furthermore, unlike other issues in the strategy, no outcomes or actions are presented.

Even though Independent Living principles are mentioned throughout the strategy, such as to provide support in ’all parts of one’s life’ and being included in ’all parts of society’, they very rarely mention any private parts of life, or even leisure activities – even though the Building understanding report showed much statistics on disabled people’s lack and exclusion in this area. In the final action plan (Making it happen) the previously mentioned area of ‘Family and social life’ has turned into ‘Inclusive communities’ without any specific acknowledgment of sexuality and relationships.

The few mentions of sexual relationships in the first documents have turned into mere family matters (like in the CRPD), public issues (education, work) are focused in favour of personal/private ones (sexuality, leisure), and furthermore, what I haven’t mentioned so much in this post, is a drive towards devolving issues to councils, local communities and service providers. In other words, sexuality does not seem to be an issue worthy of inclusion in a national disability policy.

To summarise, there seems to be several divides in how disabled people’s lives are framed and prioritised in policy:

  • Public vs private matters
  • Family vs sexual matters
  • National vs local matters

It will be interesting to compare this to my other case studies (the Netherlands and New South Wales, Australia)! In the next few posts, I will look at other relevant UK policies.