The equality watchdog is examining claims that the government has discriminated against UK disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) by excluding them from the delivery of a new £29 million international development programme.
The Department for International Development (DFID) has awarded the contract to a consortium of charities and other organisations led by the UK-based disability charity Sightsavers, in a process that DPOs in England and Wales believe has breached the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The consortium includes the International Disability Alliance (IDA), an international DPO based in the US and Switzerland, and several UK-based international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), but no UK DPOs.
The contract with Sightsavers is worth £29 million over the six years of the programme, while there will be a separate contract for a research programme valued at £7 million which is currently out for tender.
The award of the contract is just the latest in a series of government snubs for the UK’s disabled people’s movement, and its latest apparent breach of the convention.
DPOs have been trying since last year to persuade DFID to change its approach to awarding the contract for the Disability Inclusive Development (DID) programme, which aims to support achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and improve access to areas such as education, jobs, healthcare and address discrimination for disabled people in the global south.
But the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) – which represents a number of English DPOs – is arguing that DPOs in the UK did not have the resources to bid successfully to be part of the programme and were not supported by DFID to do so.
ROFA believes the criteria for awarding the contract should have included the need to include UK DPOs in the winning consortium.
Following ROFA’s complaints, it believes DFID’s only concession so far has been to promise that DPOs will be part of the programme’s independent advisory group.
DFID is led by international development secretary Penny Mordaunt, a former minister for disabled people.
ROFA has been forced to complain to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which has already criticised DFID for its approach to disability in development in a report published in May.
Mark Harrison, from ROFA, said: “They have a disability inclusion project with no UK DPOs involved in the delivery. It’s obscene.”
He said they had had support for their concerns from DPOs in the global south.
He said: “DPOs in the south want to work with UK DPOs. They don’t want to work with disability charities because the relationship is unequal and exploitative.”
In an email to DFID earlier this year, ROFA accused the department of being “institutionally disablist”, adding: “The proposals relegate disabled people and DPOs to an ‘advisory role’ to charities FOR disabled people, INGOs [international non-governmental organisations] and the private sector who will receive the funding to deliver the programme.