Martin Horwood MP writes…Putting people with disabilities into the international development picture

One year after her appointment as the first ever Liberal Democrat minister at the Department for International Development (DfID), Lynne Featherstone has already earned a reputation for picking up difficult subjects and setting ambitious goals. In her first year, she put the issue of female genital mutilation on the national and international agenda and famously declared that she wanted to see it gone within a generation and then started to take the practical steps to make that happen.

Now Lynne has taken up another challenge for some of the world’s most vulnerable people: to champion the inclusion of people with disabilities. In the domestic UK context we have understood for many years that people with disabilities are constantly vulnerable to exclusion and discrimination. And we know that in international development the most vulnerable and excluded groups are more at risk of poverty and ill health. But we seem to have hesitated to draw the obvious conclusion: that people with disabilities need to be high on our international development agenda too. For Liberal Democrats committed to fairness, equality and human rights worldwide, that has to change and DfID offers the perfect position from which to start making a difference for some of the poorest and most excluded people in the world.

lynnefeatherstoneugandaLynne has described disability as the great neglected subject in international development. Despite the fact that people with disabilities make up one in seven of the world’s population, and one in four households includes a person with disabilities, international development programmes have often failed to meaningfully address the needs of people with disabilities, meaning they have too often been left behind in the progress enjoyed by others. Lynne has begun to address this critical issue, by committing the UK to ensure that from now on, every school built with assistance from UK aid will be fully accessible to children with disabilities. These children will then be far more likely to be able to escape the poverty trap and to go on to support themselves and their families, and contribute towards the development of their societies.

2014 has the potential to be a watershed year for the world’s one billion people with disabilities. As the negotiations to decide what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) progress, there is an opportunity to ensure that the next set of goals address the needs of people with disabilities, as the previous MDGs have failed to do. We also have a window of opportunity to make the most of our position in Government and in DfID, to ensure that the department takes a systematic approach to ensuring that all its programmes and policies are accessible to people with disabilities.

The UK NGO Sightsavers has  launched a campaign called Put Us in the Picture, which aims to do just that, and I have tabled an Early Day Motion to demonstrate the level of support for the initiative being led by Lynne in DfID.

While Lynne is leading the way in ensuring that the Department for International Development does more to ensure that people with disabilities benefit equally from development programmes, we as the Liberal Democrats need to match her ambition, and do justice to our commitment to human rights, by making sure our own party policy reflects the importance of inclusive development. We can’t afford to let disability be the development issue of the moment, only to be forgotten about in the hurly-burly of the next election campaign. We must ensure that the Liberal Democrat position is clear – that everyone is able to access, benefit from, and contribute to international development and no-one is left behind.

* Martin Horwood is Liberal Democrat Member of the European Parliament for the South West of England & Gibraltar. He is a member of the European Parliament’s Iran delegation. He is Borough & parish councillor for Leckhampton, Gloucestershire.

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One Comment

  • December 3 each year, since 1998, is identified by the United Nations
    as the International Day Of Persons With Disabilities. I wish to share
    with you a little poem dedicated to these disabled people.

    THE DISABLED PEOPLE

    They walked using their crutches
    They wanted to cross the street
    But cars kept moving and horning
    So they were stranded in traffic
    And stood rooted and trembling

    They moved on their wheelchairs
    They wanted to enter the building
    But the slopes were too steep to go
    So they rolled back in frustration
    And found few places friendly to go

    Disabled people have special needs
    Whether injured, old, blind or deaf
    And what they need is understanding
    With people showing they do care
    So their lives can be less distressing

    Should not the young help the old
    And the strong help the weak
    As the sages have always told ?

    Frank Chin

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