[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Thirteenth Report of the International Development Committee, DFID’s work on disability-inclusive development, Session 2017-19, HC 1880, and the Government Response, Session 2017-19, HC 2680.
It is, as ever, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, not least because you serve as a distinguished member of the International Development Committee. I thank you, and indeed the other members of the Committee who are not present, for your service on the Committee. I also thank the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who previously served with great distinction on the International Development Committee and who, like me, is standing down at the forthcoming general election. He has played an extraordinary leadership role on the Conservative Benches and in working cross-party across a range of development and humanitarian issues. I pay tribute to him for that and wish him well for the future. I thank the Minister, the shadow Minister and the Parliamentary Private Secretary for their attendance today at what I hope will be a positive and focused debate on an important issue.
In July, the International Development Committee released our thirteenth report, addressing the Department for International Development’s work on mainstreaming disability inclusion. Earlier this month, the Government published their response to the report. I am pleased that they responded very positively, accepting either wholly or partially all but two of our recommendations. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how DFID intends to achieve progress in the areas to which it is committed.
When we launched this short inquiry last December, we invited submissions on all aspects of the Department’s work on disability. We had a particular focus on whether the Department’s new disability strategy provided an adequate framework for approaching disability-inclusive development. I am grateful to everyone who gave evidence to our inquiry, and I put on the record my thanks to the fantastic Committee staff, some of whom are in the Public Gallery, for their hard work on the inquiry.
We have seen in recent years a substantial increase in DFID’s focus on disability. The Department launched its first ever strategy for disability-inclusive development, and the United Kingdom co-hosted the first global disability summit with the Government of Kenya and the International Disability Alliance. It is against that backdrop that we took an early look at this work. Overall, we were very pleased that the Government have reacted positively to this agenda.
It was under my predecessor, Lord Bruce, that the International Development Committee made a number of recommendations, including that the Department should develop a specific strategy on disability. I believe it is a critical step both in boosting disability inclusion and in ensuring that the Department has a clear commitment to disabled people right the way across its programming on development and in humanitarian crises. It is crucial in the context of the global goals—the sustainable development goals. As the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, outlines:
“Societies will never achieve the SDGs without the full participation of everyone, including people with disabilities.”
Disability is surely at the heart of this endeavour. A billion people, or around 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability. It is estimated that around four in five of people with disabilities live in the world’s poorest countries, and that one in five people in those countries have some form of disability. They are perhaps one of the groups most at risk of being left behind. In many countries, what we would regard as basic or essential services for disabled people are not available—or if they are available, they are of very poor quality.
The “UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development 2018” found that poverty rates are higher on average for disabled people. On global goal 2—zero hunger—it found that:
“the average percentage of persons with disabilities who are unable to afford a meal with protein every second day is almost double that of persons without disabilities.”
Of course, we live in a world scarred by conflict. Armed conflict is a major cause of disability. Research by Human Rights Watch across a number of countries, including Cameroon, Syria and Yemen, shows that people with disabilities in situations of armed conflict face a disproportionate level of violence, forced displacement and ongoing neglect. Even more horrifying, Human Rights Watch found that, in some cases, disabled people are simply abandoned in their homes or in deserted villages for days or even weeks, with very little access to food or water.
I recently met Bahia Zrikem, Humanity and Inclusion’s humanitarian and policy co-ordinator for Syria. For the past eight years of the Syria conflict, Humanity and Inclusion, previously known as Handicap International, has deployed rehabilitation teams and partners to help Syrians, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon. More than 60% of refugee households from Syria have someone with a disability, and one in five Syrian refugees now living in Lebanon or Jordan have a disability. The challenges that they face are enormous.
I support Humanity and Inclusion’s Stop Bombing Civilians campaign. I hope that ending the use of explosive weapons in populated areas will be at the centre of the Government’s forthcoming review of the protection of civilians strategy. I pay tribute to Humanity and Inclusion and all the other organisations working in this field for advocating the rights of people with disabilities. Such organisations represent the experience and views of people with disabilities, and the Committee did its utmost to ensure that those voices shaped our inquiry and its resulting recommendations.
I pay tribute to Sightbox, a small charity born out of the passion and leadership of Dr John Patterson, who is the headteacher of St Vincent’s School for the visually impaired in my constituency in Liverpool. Pupils at St Vincent’s have created Sightbox containers filled with equipment, providing blind and visually impaired children with the means to access education and sport, and to have a more independent lifestyle. The boxes have been sent around the world to countries including Nepal, Gambia and Pakistan.
Too often in the past, development programmes have left out people with disabilities, and disabled people have not been involved in the decisions that affect their lives. That is why we welcome DFID’s decision to mainstream disability inclusion across the work of the Department.
Last year’s global disability summit was an important step forward. The Department announced initiatives that became part of the disability strategy, alongside the charter for change, which was signed by participating countries. The Committee commends those initiatives, which demonstrate true global leadership. We know that disability inclusion was a high priority for the previous DFID Secretary, who is now the Home Secretary, and particularly for her successor, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt). We have seen a lot of change in the Department this year, and I urge the Minister to reflect on that. It is so important that DFID maintains momentum on delivering on the global disability summit commitments, and that it continues to take the lead in urging other donors to act and deliver on their commitments. I hope that the priority given by the two previous Secretaries of State will be maintained—the current Secretary of State was very positive when we asked him about the subject last week.
I welcome the Government’s commitment in their response to develop robust accountability on this issue. I hope the Minister can say a bit more about the Department’s plan for an independent secretariat and governance structure, so that everyone, including DFID, is fully accountable for the delivery of its commitments
As part of its strategy for disability-inclusive development, the Department has a twin-track approach that involves funding projects that are disability-specific alongside mainstreaming disability across other programmes. The Department takes a similar approach in other cross-cutting thematic areas, such as climate change, and the Committee believes that in principle it is the right approach. It has the potential to achieve real and sustainable improvements, provided the commitment is there in a sustained and sustainable way. Early progress has been positive, but much work still needs to be done.
The Committee received several pieces of evidence expressing concern that aspects of the strategy and delivery plan were vague, adding to a broader worry about the lack of clarity about what is expected of the staff who are to implement mainstreaming. Programmes, business units and teams across the Department need clarity about what mainstreaming involves in practice, so that they can implement it as effectively as possible. As Humanity and Inclusion told us,
“Disability Strategy’s Delivery Plan does provide a framework for actions, with lead departments, and as such is a vital and welcome tool for outlining DFID’s work on inclusion. But in many cases actions are too vague and lack specific outcomes.”
The Committee is concerned that there is a risk that implementation might be inconsistent across DFID, and difficult to measure. I am pleased that DFID has committed to monitoring the progress of its business units in meeting inclusion standards. Hopefully that will help provide a better understanding of how effective the two-strand approach to inclusion is.
Sightsavers, a fantastic charity, recommended that DFID republishes its delivery plan to make it more specific, and to include a clear evaluation mechanism, and a timeline for when all business units should meet the minimum standards. The Department has extended the deadline for its republished plan to June next year. I really appreciate the desire to get it right, so I hope that the Minister can outline what opportunities there will be for a consultative update on planned changes to the delivery plan in that period. I hope also that DFID will use the opportunity to update its strategy to include some of the more neglected areas on which there should have been specific commitments, such as health, ageing, and the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.
The Committee feels strongly that barriers to education should be removed as a top priority. The Minister leads on education for the Department and gave evidence to the Select Committee on it earlier this week. I know that his personal commitment is strong. We know from the evidence that disabled children face huge barriers to education. We know from constituency casework, and the evidence that comes before us and the Education Committee, that that is the case in our own country. The Education Commission has estimated that half—50%—of all children with disabilities in not only low but middle-income countries are out of school. Of course, that is an average. In some of the poorest and most fragile countries, the figures are even worse.
As we said in the IDC’s 2017 report on education:
“DFID has shown leadership on education for girls and young women...The Department should now use its influence in the same way to shine a light on the needs of disabled children. It has made great progress with the Disability Framework, but needs to now ensure this is being implemented across all DFID programmes.”
I know that DFID’s education policy, “Get Children Learning”, is working towards that aim, and is supporting children with disabilities in moving into mainstream education wherever possible. It supports comprehensive and cost-effective interventions, and most importantly, it is increasing the number and quality of teachers and support staff available. I urge DFID to do all it can to address the specific needs of children at each stage of education, starting with the early years and early child development, and taking into account both the obvious and less obvious barriers to education.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment, reflected in the Queen’s Speech, to all girls having access to 12 years of quality education. The UK’s pledge at the recent UN General Assembly to higher investment in education is very positive, but we must as part of that address the particular needs of those who are disabled. I hope the Minister can provide assurances that children with disabilities will be front and centre in the Government’s efforts to secure 12 years of quality education in the Leave No Girl Behind initiative.
A key commitment of DFID’s at the disability summit was the inclusive education initiative, which aims to accelerate action by countries and to support their efforts in making education more inclusive. The initiative does this by helping Governments and other stakeholders to mobilise finance and develop programmes that ensure inclusive education. When he responds, will the Minister set out how the Government will build on the initial investment and, in particular, how we can bring other donors on board to maximise its impact?
Of course, it is important when implementing such programmes that we put pressure on national Governments to budget for the costs of disability inclusion in their planning. DFID agreed to the Committee’s recommendation that the Government should create a framework to ensure that programmes identify correctly the specific challenges in each host nation, and provide the technical guidance to deliver education projects that address those challenges. National Governments should also be encouraged to plan and budget for disability inclusion in their own education programmes.
More broadly, disability should not be an obstacle to participation in economic and social life. We welcome the inclusion of social and economic empowerment as pillars of DFID’s strategy. This reflects the high living costs and barriers to healthcare, employment and other economic opportunities that people with disabilities face. As we know, a large majority of people with disabilities are either not employed or are under-employed. If they are in work, they earn lower wages than people without disabilities. For women with disabilities, gender inequality compounds that divide.
We have called on the Department to gather more evidence on the impact of poverty reduction on social protection programmes, and to work with Governments and stakeholders to fund and support the inclusion of people with disabilities in existing social protection schemes, or, where necessary, to develop appropriate new schemes targeted at the particular needs of disabled people. The Department should also ensure that disability inclusion is mainstreamed throughout its economic development programming. Clearly, one of the most important opportunities for disabled people is to set up their own business, to get work, and to get the training that they need so that they have the skills required for the jobs of the future. Disability inclusion should also be an aspect of broader investment decisions, particularly by CDC, which should have a disability-inclusive approach to its investment.
Palladium, a contractor, said to us in evidence:
“Encouraging diversity in the supply chain by engagement of companies owned or led by people with disabilities and by encouraging programme implementers to do the same will increase economic empowerment and bring diversity of thought to DFID programming.”
People with disabilities should be assisted in overcoming skills gaps or accessibility issues that may prevent them getting work with DFID.
The disability strategy, alongside the summit, has provided a renewed focus on boosting disability inclusion. It has rightly been commended across the sector, but the progress needs to be sustained. As I implied, there is a concern that disability might not have the priority that it previously had in the Department, and that it was very much a personal priority of two previous Secretaries of State, but I am sure the Minster will be able to reassure us that disability inclusion absolutely remains a top priority for the Department, so that we really do leave no one behind. I hope that the Department is scaling up its spending on disability-specific projects, while further embedding disability inclusion across the strategy and budget of DFID.
This is the final report that I will have the opportunity to present as Chair of the International Development Committee. I am very proud of the work that the Committee has done, but I am particularly proud of the work that my predecessor did on this issue, which contributed to disability being a higher priority in the Department’s work. That goes to the very heart of the sustainable development goals.
I want to finish by speaking about a project I have spoken about previously, because it is so impressive. Two years ago, the Committee went on a visit to education projects in east Africa, and the one that sticks in my memory is the Girls Education Challenge programme in Kisumu in Kenya, which is funded by DFID and run by Leonard Cheshire. We were so impressed by the programme, which is aimed at girls with disabilities, that we reflected, on a cross-party basis, that we wanted more of those sorts of programmes to be funded by DFID. We also want DFID to act as a catalyst to enable Governments in countries such as Kenya to spread the very best practice—like what we saw in Kisumu—through their countries. It felt to me as if the very best of UK aid was reaching those who are often left furthest behind, and that it was also giving UK taxpayers the best value for money.
I applaud the Department for using its influence to shine a light on the needs of disabled children, just as it has successfully shone a light on the needs of girls and young women. UK aid should be about not just removing barriers but supporting people with disabilities to thrive in every facet of life. There is no surely no better example of leaving no one behind than enabling every child to go to school and every adult to participate in economic and social life and, perhaps above all, ensuring that the voices of disabled people are heard, listened to and acted on.
It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. It is also a great honour to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg)—the two years I spent on the Select Committee under his chairmanship were among of the most enjoyable of my time in Parliament. He has been a great Chair of the Committee and it is the House’s loss that he is standing down. However, I am sure that he will make a huge contribution to the area in question in his future career, wherever that will be.
I declare an interest as a board member of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. I want to talk about neglected tropical diseases, an area in which the school does great work, which is why I am declaring that interest. I am also chair of the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases.
I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). I seem to remember that in the 2010 to 2015 Parliament, when we produced the first report on DFID and disability, she was one of the main instigators of work in that area, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and myself.
There are three areas that I want to address: neglected tropical diseases, jobs in the private sector, and nutrition. All of those have a strong relationship with disability and DFID’s work on it. Neglected tropical diseases are those that, as the name suggests, have been neglected, but I am glad to say that they are much less neglected than they used to be, because of the strong work done by many around the world—not least DFID and the United States, and increasingly now other countries, such as Germany.
It was a great honour when I recently chaired a meeting of the all-party group where we helped to publicise DFID’s new programme on accelerating the sustainable control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases. ASCEND covers five of the worst diseases: trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis and visceral leishmaniasis. There are two programmes within ASCEND—one covering east and central Africa and one covering west Africa. The programme aims to accelerate sustainable control and elimination of neglected tropical diseases and is spending £200 million over the period between this September and March 2022.
The work that I have seen on tackling neglected tropical diseases, particularly in Africa but also elsewhere, is not only essential but incredibly cost-effective. DFID did an evaluation of work on NTDs and said that it paid back something like £30 or more for every £1 spent. Why is that relevant to disability? It is simple: those diseases, even if people are treated for them, lead to disability, or in some cases they cause disability that can then almost be cured by the treatments.
A few weeks ago I had the honour of visiting, with the hon. Member for Stockton South (Dr Williams), a clinic in Rombo in east Kilimanjaro, where we saw surgery being performed on people’s eyelids, through the Commonwealth Fund and with the help of Sightsavers and DFID. The people had a condition that almost removed their eyesight, but after a few days they could see much better. It was wonderful, because often those were people in their 60s, 70s or 80s—there was even one woman in her 90s—and they were suddenly given a new lease of life and could perform tasks that they could not perform before, because of that simple but hugely beneficial operation.
Another great thing about that experience was that I saw the ophthalmic surgeon not only performing the operation but teaching two highly skilled nurses how to do it; it was training as well as an operation. What gave me great joy was the fact that at the end I shook the surgeon’s hand and he asked my name. When I gave it he said, “Are you related to Dr Lefroy?” I said, “Yes, she’s my wife.” He said, “She trained me at the medical school in Kilimanjaro, the best part of 20 years ago.” It was lovely to see the link between the work that Janet did all those years ago, training a young man who is now an experienced eye surgeon and who also trains experienced eye nurses. That gave me great joy, but probably not as much as seeing those men and women undergoing a quite difficult operation with great fortitude and stoicism, having their eyes bandaged, and then moving out, knowing that in two or three days’ time their lives would be made a lot better by being able to see. They would be able to perform jobs and tasks, and engage in activities that they would not otherwise have been able to do.
I remember a second visit, a few years ago, just south of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where we saw a programme, also with DFID funding, working together with the Tanzanian Government. The point I would make is that those programmes are working together with the Government in health facilities supported by the Government, whether they are faith-based or Government-owned. They are integrated into the Government system. They are supported by other organisations such as Sightsavers, which is excellent, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby has said, but they are integrated into the work that is already going on.
The programme I saw was tackling lymphatic filariasis, otherwise known as elephantiasis. It is a very disabling disease and, as the name suggests, it causes the swelling of limbs. People were being taught how to look after and treat their condition so that they would be able to work again. The other element of the programme was to take away some of the stigma. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby has said, stigma is a big issue in connection with disability, and there is great stigma attached to lymphatic filariasis.
I want to praise the work that DFID, its partners and others in the sector are doing, and to encourage the United Kingdom to continue the work. The programme is worth about £60 million to £70 million a year, and it has a huge impact. If one considers that the number of people affected by NTDs around the world is in the order of 1.4 billion—these programmes are helping hundreds of millions to cope with disabilities, and are treating and preventing disabilities—one can see how important that work is.
The second area that I would like to tackle is jobs and livelihoods. The report is very good on that, and section 113 and those following it talk about the private sector. Again, I have personal experience of this, as my father was disabled. His disability came in his mid-30s, and he found it very difficult to get work. I pay great tribute to the Church of England, because he was a vicar and it supported him. Understandably, in the 1960s he found it very difficult to find places that would accept somebody who was disabled. Nevertheless, he was supported right the way through by the congregations he served in London, which in those days was quite unusual.
From that experience, I have always wanted the United Kingdom to take a lead in disability support within the workplace, particularly within the private sector. I was very encouraged by the example given in the report of the hotel chain ITC Welcom Group, which has produced a disability handbook for industry. It argues that employees with disabilities
“tend to have better attendance records, stay with employers longer and have fewer accidents at work”.
It highlights other important benefits, such as improving the company image and boosting staff morale. That applies in the United Kingdom and across the world. I welcome DFID’s work, together with that of its private equity arm, CDC, in putting that at the forefront of their work.
Nutrition does not feature highly in the report, but I fully understand that not everything can be covered. Just last week I was talking to the head of the World Food Programme for Burundi, where 56% of the population are malnourished. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, but sadly, because of the serious problems with governance there, it has been neglected by the international community. I know that the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby shares that view. I encourage DFID to strengthen its support in Burundi.
The point is that if we do not support babies and children in the first 1,000 days—this is shown by work that DFID has done on nutrition, the work that Melinda Gates has done on the issue, and the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and others in this country—the problems last for the rest of their lives. If babies, children and young people do not have access to adequate nutrition, they will be much more susceptible to acquiring disabilities, either at a young age or later. Will the Minister address the issue of Burundi, where I believe there is a hidden nutrition crisis—indeed, more than a crisis? I know he is aware of that, but what can we do about it? How is DFID’s work on nutrition, which is of the highest order, feeding into its work on disability?
I am most grateful for this opportunity to speak. I am very grateful for the work that DFID is doing in these areas. I encourage the Minister and the whole Department to make further progress on their work with disability, but I thank them for what they have done over the past five years, moving from the framework to the strategy, and for taking a leading role in this most important of areas.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). It is a great sadness to many of us that he has decided to stand down from this place. His speech demonstrated to us in a very real way the things that inspire him in politics. It was a vision of compassion, of looking outwards and of helping others. I know that he will not mind me saying that it was also inspired by his Christian faith. We will miss him very much in this place. We thank him for all his efforts in the arena of international development, and on the other issues that he has taken up in this House.
I also pay tribute briefly to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who has chaired the International Development Committee extremely well. As I think he knows, he is not only very well respected across the House, but very well liked. We will certainly miss him too. I wish him well for the future.
I wanted to speak for two reasons. In general terms, our country is grappling with its future place in the world, and perhaps some of our friends around the world, and indeed our enemies, are wondering when the UK will regain a surer footing on its vision for the future. The work that this country does, ably led by our Department for International Development, in trying to alleviate poverty and suffering around the world, gives a strong signal—it is perhaps not publicised widely enough or known about—to all the countries around the world that might be harbouring one or two doubts about the political difficulties of the past couple of years. It gives a powerful signal that this country stands for the right values, is compassionate and wants to have a leading, positive role in the world.
I am proud that my town and borough of Woking proactively decided to take in Syrian refugees. I am able to report to the House that it has worked extremely well. Some of the refugees had severe health and disability issues. I pay tribute to the efforts of our local national health service’s efforts in giving them the help and support they needed. I also pay tribute to our local mosques, particularly the Shah Jahan mosque, and our Christian churches, which rallied around those people, who had come from a terrible war-torn situation. Many of them had very difficult personal stories of what they and their families had been through. It was very moving when many of those refugees, who are now fully settled—most are looking forward to a future in this country, but if they wish to return they will be helped to do so—decided to cook a feast at the end of Eid and invite the community, particularly the faith communities from the mosque and our churches, to celebrate together. They made it clear how thankful and grateful they were to the churches, the mosque and the wider Woking community for giving them such a warm welcome after their times of trouble.
I will not detain hon. Members any longer. The work that our Department for International Development does is very valuable around the world. It is important that the International Development Committee scrutinises it and encourages it in its efforts; we thank the Committee for its work. I hope that the Minister will tell us in his response a little more about this country’s international development efforts to help and support people from conflict zones, such as Syria and Yemen. The House would be grateful to hear more about its work in those areas.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Evans, and to respond for the Opposition on a very important and impactful report, to which many hon. Members have contributed, not least yourself as a member of that Committee. The report is clearly the culmination of the Committee’s work and focus spanning several chairships, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) said, it will be his final report. The Committee’s work will continue to make a difference.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend—he is my friend—for whom I have considerable admiration and lots of respect. I believe that that view is shared not just among Labour Members, but by hon. Members across the House, who know that he is a man of great integrity, personal character and obvious and clear talent, and that he is fundamentally a very decent person. As we know, there is lots of room for that across the House. In that spirit, I would say that I am sad to see him go, but he will only be a phone call away, so I will still be able to ask him daft questions which he will take in the spirit in which they are asked. I will not take my tribute any further because I know that that is not what he wants, but it was important to say that. The report is excellent and it is characteristic of my hon. Friend’s time as Committee Chair and of the excellent colleagues who served with him.
It was impossible not to be moved and struck by the story about east Kilimanjaro told by the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy). If ever there were a story that characterised a small world, that is it. It also made a really important point about Britain’s future place in the world and the importance of being generous with our knowledge, whether in medicine, as in this case, in sciences, as we talk about tackling climate change globally, in nutrition, in farming and so on. We have an awful lot of expertise and excellent academic institutions in this country, and we have lived experience as well. We ought to be really generous with how we share that. If we do, we can make a really big impact. We will always talk about aid in terms of the 0.7% of GDP commitment, which is exceptionally important, but sharing knowledge is a soft way of contributing even more, and that is really important.
The hon. Member for Stafford also made a point about jobs. I often say that my love for development stems from my values. The things that I want for my community are the things I want for the rest of the world. His point about employment and employers is really important. In Nottingham, when that has been done well, it has been transformative for people and businesses, but when it has been done poorly it has had quite the opposite impact, and that applies around the world. I hope that we can be generous in the way that we support others to do as well as they can. I wish the hon. Gentleman very well in the future.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr Lord) spoke about Britain’s place in the world, which chimed with the previous contributions. He mentioned the Syrian refugee programme, and I do not think I would be too bold to say that there was a universal sense across all communities of just how good that scheme was, and how much communities stepped up and rallied around. We are very proud of that in Nottingham; it is clearly the case in Woking, too.
We should not be shy of acknowledging the importance of faith communities in such schemes. Whatever their faith, people from faith communities in my constituency make a massive impact on a daily basis for those who have the least. They do that because they think it important. I suspect that other hon. Members will agree that when the road is long from visiting projects, and we are having difficult days, seeing those schemes and meeting those people fills our hearts and sends us off with a spring in our steps. We should not miss the opportunity to highlight and trumpet that work whenever we can.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby said, 1 billion people—almost one in eight globally—live with disabilities. Among the poorest people in the world, that number is one in five, and rising. Including people with disabilities in development and humanitarian interventions is not a side issue; it directly affects millions of people in fundamental ways. I commend DFID for the global leadership that it has shown on this issue in recent years. Only when we lead by example can we raise the bar internationally, and I believe that DFID has made a significant effort to do so. That work is a good example of what an independent DFID can do and of the leadership that it can show at home and abroad. On behalf of the Opposition, I put on record our commitment to the DFID’s disability agenda and affirm that it is crucial in the fight against inequality of justice. We would plan to make significant steps in the leadership of that fight, perhaps from 13 December.
I would be interested to hear the Minister’s reflections on three points. First, as my hon. Friend said, momentum and political will on disability should not be lost. I welcome the Government’s agreement with the report’s first recommendation on developing a robust accountability mechanism for commitments made at the global disability summit in July 2018. A significant amount of time has passed since that summit, and once the election period is over, it will have been 18 months. The mechanism is not likely to be in place until 2020. We risk losing a bit of momentum from the summit. Will the Minister tell us what is taking so long? Can he elaborate on what the plans and timing are, and whether a follow-up summit is planned in due course?
As my hon. Friend said, there has been significant political change in the Department in recent years. Obviously, there have been four Secretaries of State, two of whom—the right hon. Members for Witham (Priti Patel) and for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt)—have made disability a real priority. I want Ministers to make it clear today that this is a departmental priority, not just a priority of individuals; that this will not relate to the politics of the day; and that any future changes will not mean that this will be lost as a priority. It is important to have that clarity on the record.
Secondly, it is important that we talk positively about the impact that businesses have in this area, but also reference some of the risks involved in that, and our part in the world and in global trade in future. I welcome DFID’s work, set out in its response to recommendation 29, to better include people living with disabilities in its humanitarian interventions. Whether in conflict, in the climate crisis or in humanitarian crises, people living with disabilities are by definition the most vulnerable and at risk of being forgotten and/or excluded. Inclusion or exclusion can be the difference between life or death.
We know that conflict causes disabilities, life-changing injuries and trauma, and that over 90% of the casualties of such conflicts are civilians. It is therefore good and important that in Vienna, countries agreed to work together towards a new international political declaration to stop the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Do the UK Government support those efforts unconditionally, and if not, why not? We have to accept our own place within that. We must accept that if there is any sense that British-made bombs have caused these problems, that undermines the case that we make in our communities about the importance of British aid and helping people with disabilities. That is an inconvenient truth, but one that we must not lose from this conversation.
Thirdly and finally, there must be coherence between our international and domestic approaches. In the Government’s responses to recommendations 19, 20 and 21, they affirm that DFID will want to strengthen the access of people with disabilities to social protection in developing countries, and in some cases, agree to go further in the future. There is the challenge of that not chiming with constituents who contact me about experience at home. We of course know from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities about some of the challenges in this country. Those are issues for the next six weeks, so I will not go any further than that, but there will be a challenge for us on the credibility of both public policy and aid policy, which is so important, if we do not demonstrate that we are practising and preaching at home the values that we believe in and hold globally. That is exceptionally important, and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response.
I thank you, Mr Evans, for chairing the debate and hon. Members for their contributions. I thank the hon. Member for Stafford and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby for everything that they have done, and for their leadership. We stand on their shoulders. I find it comforting to be able to say that, and we wish them nothing but the best in the future.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, for what I think is the first time. It is good to see my constituency neighbour in the Chair.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing the debate, and I thank International Development Committee members for their long-standing interest in disability-inclusive development. They have consistently shown strong support and leadership on this issue. Their most recent report will be an invaluable contribution to our achieving our ambition. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Woking (Mr Lord) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) for their informed and thoughtful contributions.
Disability inclusion is a top priority for DFID and will remain so. Momentum is building, but we recognise that we have to do more. The world will not achieve the sustainable development goals, or deliver its commitment to leaving no one behind, without a sustained, concerted effort to include people with disabilities at all stages of their lives.
Disability inclusion is a neglected issue internationally. Although 180 countries have ratified the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, implementation is slow. There are an estimated 1 billion people with disabilities globally; 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries. People with disabilities are poorer than their non-disabled peers, in terms of access to education, healthcare, employment, social support and civic involvement. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby said, the differences are particularly stark in education; more than half of the 65 million children with disabilities in low and middle-income countries are not in school.
I will add some personal reflections. In 2008 I had the privilege of attending the Paralympics in Beijing to watch my university friend Helene Raynsford win gold in the women’s single sculls. I remember the event vividly, but I also remember being told how the Paralympics had helped transform Beijing from a city that was almost totally inaccessible to disabled people to one ready to welcome disabled people from across the globe.
More recently, last month I met Charlotte Frost and Joshua Hartley, two International Citizen Service volunteers from Barnoldswick in my constituency. In 2018 Joshua spent three months in Ghana volunteering on a disability project for people with visual impairments. After that, he returned to his job at Pendle Borough Council and helped set up a goalball team—a sport designed for people with visual impairments—in Blackburn. That is a great example of a DFID-funded project benefiting disabled people in a developing country, and bringing knowledge and learning back to the UK.
Without efforts to reduce barriers, many people with disabilities would be trapped in poverty. We know that women and girls with disabilities are even more marginalised and discriminated against because of their gender as well as their disability. That is why this issue is so important. If we are to deliver real change for people with disabilities, we all need to fundamentally change the way we do business.
We are pleased that the Committee concludes from its assessment that DFID is making good progress on this aim. We were particularly pleased to see that its report commends our leadership on the global disability summit in 2018, and supports our five-year disability inclusion strategy. That gives us renewed confidence that the strategy, published in December last year, will achieve real and tangible outcomes for people with disabilities. The strategy includes time-bound commitments over the next five years, and sets out how we will mainstream disability inclusion in DFID’s systems, structures and culture.
DFID agrees with the vast majority of the recommendations in the report. We recognise that this is a long-term, complex agenda, and the recommendations will help shape our future direction. Our priority is to continue to be a leading light in disability inclusion. I will highlight four main areas where we will continue to do this. The first is in leadership and culture. Leadership on this issue is essential—not just senior leadership or leadership from Ministers, but leadership throughout the organisation. A number of Members have commented on the personal commitment of the previous Secretary of State to this issue. I was pleased that the Secretary of State reconfirmed last week to the Committee that disability inclusion is a top priority for DFID.
Our worldwide network of 67 disability champions will continue to share best practice and inspire action. We are supporting offices in undertaking stock-takes and implementing actions plans to embed disability inclusion properly in their systems and structures. Of the 52 offices that completed a recent self-assessment, 48 indicated that they were on track or had achieved the standard for creating an inclusive office culture.
Secondly, we must focus on getting the right expertise to deliver our agenda. The Committee made a number of recommendations on improving the diversity and skills of our staff, with which we fully agree. We strongly believe that people with disabilities should be at the forefront of DFID’s work. We are working with human resources to improve access and opportunities for people with disabilities. That is happening alongside DFID’s wider efforts in areas such as gender equality and race.
To deliver on the strategy, we need to develop the technical skills of our staff in the UK and in our country offices. Alongside a dedicated helpdesk, we are developing an interactive resource site containing detailed guidance notes, tools and advice to support the roll-out of the strategy. Our central team provides bespoke support to country offices, especially those working towards high achievement standards. Our offer also includes training courses for staff on specialist topics such as mental health. That is already having an impact. We have seen a significant rise in the number of programmes marked as disability inclusive, from 19% in November 2017 to over 31% now.
For example, in Jordan, assistive technology is being integrated in humanitarian programming. People with disabilities are being provided with assistive devices, such as crutches, wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs. Through the Girls Education Challenge, mentioned by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, we have helped over 46,000 girls with disabilities receive an education in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
Thirdly, we recognise that we cannot achieve outcomes for people with disabilities by working alone. We must work in partnership with others and continue to bring new actors to the fore; that was a success at the global disability summit. We agree with the Committee’s recommendations on working with the private sector and deepening our relationships with country Governments. DFID is uniquely placed to influence other organisations and drive up standards in the sector. We welcomed the publication of the UN disability inclusion strategy in June 2019 as evidence of continued momentum on the part of other agencies.
We need to be able to hold ourselves and others to account. We plan to create an independent secretariat to drive progress on the 968 commitments from the global disability summit. We know that change is not possible without shared responsibility. We all have to hold each other to account if we are to deliver the change we want. Our continuing relationship with the Committee will be crucial to that.
Importantly, we recognise that DFID should strive to consult more meaningfully with people with disabilities and their representative organisations, and should build their capacity. We have seen an improvement in this area across DFID; country offices routinely consult with disabled people’s organisations. Through our disability catalyst programme, we are working with the International Disability Alliance and the Disability Rights Fund to build the capacity of disabled people’s organisations. We fully agree with the Committee’s recommendation that we should continue to advance this work. It remains the responsibility of us all to embrace the disability movement’s principle, “nothing about us without us.”
Finally, improving data collection and gathering rigorous evidence on what works will be a key part of our work on disability-inclusive development. The Washington Group questions are an important tool to improve measurement of disability. We are strengthening their use throughout our programming to ensure that we can measure our impact. Our inclusive data charter action plan, released in March 2019, articulates how we will gather high-quality data on people with disabilities.
We recognise that there are gaps in our knowledge of what works and how to reach the most marginalised. Our £37-million disability-inclusive development programme will deliver best-in-class research to address this. Working across a range of sectors, this programme will test a range of innovative solutions and then take them to scale.
We welcome the Committee’s scrutiny of our activities, and are pleased that the recommendations are almost uniformly in line with our own thinking. We would like to express further thanks to the many civil society partners and stakeholders who contributed to the report.
I turn to the questions that Members asked. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby asked about economic development programming. That is one of the four pillars of the strategy. We know we need to close the employment gap, and have to work with the private sector to do that. For example, our RATE programme—the Responsible, Accountable and Transparent Enterprise programme—works with multinational and local businesses to be more accountable for poor workers, including people with disabilities. Our UK Aid Connect programme, run by Sightsavers in conjunction with Leonard Cheshire Disability, is also supporting thousands of people with disabilities in four countries.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned what we are doing with CDC to ensure that it focuses on disability and inclusion. CDC is working jointly with the World Bank to develop a good practice note in order to incentivise private sector companies to invest in making their work inclusive of people with disabilities. That was one of the commitments made at the global disability summit.
Once again, I thank the Committee for its continued interest in this area. We look forward to engaging further in the coming months and years. I thank all the Members who have spoken, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. It is a huge shame and a great loss to this place that he is standing down. As was evidenced by his speech, and as he has shown in his many speeches over the years, he has a huge wealth of knowledge on topics in this area, such as neglected tropical medicines and all sorts of other things. My mind is often boggled by his depth of knowledge. I pay tribute to him for everything he has done for his constituents in Stafford, and on humanitarian issues, education and a range of issues over the years. I will take away his point about Burundi; we are spending £4.6 million in Burundi on education, sexual reproductive rights and humanitarian programmes run by partners. We have some challenges due to the EU sanctions that prevent us from giving money directly to the Burundi Government, but as a personal commitment to him, I am very keen to go away and look at what more we can do in that country.
Finally, on behalf of the Department for International Development, I pay tribute to the outgoing Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. I thank him for his service over the past four and a half years. In that time, I believe he has seen off five Secretaries of State and 13 junior Ministers, his Committee has published 28 reports, and he has found the time for 11 official country visits. He has been a prominent and tireless advocate for, among other things, global education, the safeguarding of beneficiaries, the implementation of the sustainable development goals and humanitarian action across the globe. I am sure he will enjoy his time away from this House, but he will undoubtedly be missed as a Member of it.
Before I call Stephen Twigg to make his closing remarks, I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. As a member of the Committee, I must say that this subject has been overlooked in the past, and I am delighted that it has been addressed in this report. It has been an honour and a joy to serve with the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) as Chair of the Committee. He is passionate about this subject and has shown great leadership throughout his tenure. I am sorry to see him go and I hope he will find a role somewhere outside this House, perhaps in a similar position.
It was an honour and a joy also to serve alongside the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) when he was a member of the Committee. He was absolutely dedicated; indeed, the only reason he is no longer a member is that he stood aside to allow another Member to take up his position, as there were no women on the Committee. That shows just how principled he is. I love the story about Janet—a wonderful, personal tribute to your wife and the legacy she has left behind. Thank you, Jeremy, and good luck for the future.
Thank you, Mr Evans, not only for your chairmanship today but for your service on the Committee. I wish the Committee well in future. You anticipated one of the things I was going to say, as did the Minister. He made the point that in my four and a half years as Chair of the Committee, there have been five Secretaries of State for International Development, but what has been striking has been our ability to work together, not just as a cross-party Committee but with Government Ministers. No matter who takes over as Secretary of State after the election, today’s debate has demonstrated the strong cross-party commitment from the Minister and the shadow Minister to disability at the heart of our approach to inclusive development.
Mr Evans, you mentioned that the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) stood aside from the Committee, which was a huge loss, to enable the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) to remain a member. I pay tribute to her; she has been a Committee member since 2010. She spoke up on sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment before the various issues were covered in the media last year. She has been a tenacious rapporteur on that issue and a passionate voice on other international development issues. I hope that when the new Parliament convenes, we shall not again be in a position where there is only one woman on a Committee of 11 in such an important area. We must ensure that Labour’s delegation on the Committee is not entirely male. We must have a more appropriate gender balance in this important area.
We have had an excellent debate. I join the tributes to the hon. Member for Stafford for his service to the House, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases. In particular, I echo what he said about Burundi, which we took the opportunity to raise with the Minister when he appeared before us earlier this week.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr Lord) made a passionate speech. In what he said about Syrian refugees, he spoke for all of us and for the best of this country, with that generosity of spirit. I hope that we can learn from that in our broader policy. After I became the Chair in 2015-16, the Committee’s first report was on the Syrian refugee crisis. One of our recommendations was that in taking vulnerable refugees in resettlement, the UK should absolutely focus on those with disabilities, so I welcome the local example from Woking. I also echo what he said in the context of the UK and Brexit. Whatever happens with Brexit, our commitment to development and humanitarian relief is an important part of our country’s soft power. As he said, our values of compassion, and of seeking and leading a positive role, should be at the heart of the approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris) made several powerful points. We echo his point on the coherence of domestic and international policy, which is important in this area and others. The Committee raised that in the context of the sustainable development goals because, as we know, the global goals are universal. They say that, yes, no one should be left behind because of their disability in sub-Saharan Africa, but neither should they be in Nottingham, Liverpool, Stafford, Woking or any of our constituencies. Achieving that coherence is an important challenge for every Government.
I was delighted to hear the Minister reaffirm once again that disability inclusion is a top priority for the Department and that, in his words, it will “continue to be a leading light”. That is hugely welcome.
I thank everyone for their kind words on the work I have done with the Committee. It would not have been possible without the other Committee members or, in particular, without the amazing staff and specialist support that the Committee gets from advisers and the hugely vibrant sector. As the Minister said, there are very strong NGO, business and academic sectors in this area, and we rely on them for the best evidence that we get as a Committee. He rightly reminded us of the point that comes so strongly from disability organisations: nothing about us without us. That is the message of the debate.
I hope that next Tuesday I will catch the Deputy Speaker’s eye when there will be an opportunity for valedictory speeches. I intend to say that it is so important that we maintain the consensus for our global engagement, for our commitment that 0.7% of gross national income goes to development, and for DFID as a stand-alone Department. I know that there is not unanimity in the House on those issues but I hope that, moving forward, the cross-party consensus will continue behind those commitments, which speak to our moral purpose and sense of mission as a country. As the hon. Member for Woking said, they enable us to be an influential player in the world, rooted in the best universal values that this country has long been committed to.
I thank the Minister for his response. I feel confident that disability inclusion will remain a priority for the British Government. I am equally confident that, whoever takes over from me as Chair, the Committee will continue to press whoever is in Government to ensure that that is the case.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Thirteenth Report of the International Development Committee, DFID’s work on disability-inclusive development, Session 2017-19, HC 1880, and the Government Response, Session 2017-19, HC 2680.