The National Disability Strategy published in July 2021, is a cross-government strategy to improve the lives of disabled people.

In January 2022, the High Court ruled the strategy unlawful, based on a case brought by four disabled people in relation to the consultation process. The Government paused some parts of the strategy while they appealed the ruling. In July 2023 the Court of Appeal ruled the High Court was wrong to find that the strategy was unlawful.

What’s in the strategy?

The National Disability Strategy was informed by the UK Government’s Disability Survey, which ran from January to April 2021, and engagement with disability stakeholders, disabled people, academics, charities and think tanks.

The strategy is UK-wide but individual policies vary across the nations. For details of the devolved strategies please the Library briefing, Disability strategies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It’s split into three parts and aims to address difficulties people with disabilities face daily, including:

  • Living in a home not adapted to their needs.
  • Difficulty accessing the transport network to get out and about.
  • Difficulty navigating inaccessible and inflexible workplaces or education settings.
  • Facing limited choice and additional expense when shopping for goods and services.
  • Unresponsive and fragmented public services that don’t meet their needs.
  • Feeling excluded from leisure opportunities and socialising.
  • Finding themselves barred from exercising rights, such as voting and serving on a jury.

The first part (Part 1: practical steps now to improve disabled people’s everyday lives) set out immediate actions the Government would take under the following headings:

  1. Rights and perceptions: removing barriers to participating fully in public and civic life and wider society
  2. Housing: creating more accessible, adapted and safer homes
  3. Transport: improving the accessibility and experience of everyday journeys
  4. Jobs: making the world of work more inclusive and accessible
  5. Education: ensuring children and young people fulfil their potential
  6. Shopping: more consumer choice and convenience
  7. Leisure: widening access to arts, culture, sport and the great outdoors
  8. Public services: making access as smooth and easy as possible

 The second part (Part 2: disabled people’s everyday experience at the heart of government policy making and service delivery) covers longer term structural change to the way government works with, and for, disabled people by:

  • Putting disabled people at the “heart of government policy making and service delivery”
  • Tracking progress

Part three (Part 3: a cross-government effort to transform disabled people’s everyday lives) sets out each government department’s commitments.

Many of the commitments rely on other Government work, including:

How was the strategy received?

The response was mixed. The concept of having a cross-departmental Government strategy was generally welcomed. The last strategy, Fulfilling Potential: improving the lives of disabled people, had not been updated for many years.

There were positive comments on the description of inequalities experienced by disabled people and on some of the Government’s plans. The disability equality charity, Scope, said in a press release there were “promising” areas: “such as the commitment to get companies reporting on disability figures in the workplace, the creation of an accessible technology centre, action to improve public transport, and a taskforce to look at the extra costs that disabled people face.”

More critical commentary said the strategy’s content was not new. The Disability News Service said: “Many of the ‘practical actions’ have already been announced, amount to nothing more than updated guidance, or are subject to further consultation, discussion or review”.

Criticism also focused on a lack of detail about commitments, targets and funding. Disability Rights UK CEO, Kamran Mallick said it was “disappointingly thin” in relation to immediate action, medium-term plans and longer-term investment. He called for radical plans: 

The Strategy has insufficient concrete measures to address the current inequalities that Disabled people experience in living standards and life chances.

There are scant plans and timescales on how to bring about vastly needed improvements to benefits, housing, social care, jobs, education, transport, and equitable access to wider society.

While we welcome the Government’s recognition that Disabled people are much less likely than non-Disabled people to have a job, qualifications, to own a home, or to live in an accessible home, we haven’t been given the bold plans that will fix these huge issues.

A vision is not enough. Admitting change won’t happen ‘overnight’ isn’t enough. We need radical plans, timescales, and deep financial investment to make change a reality.

The Strategy in court

Following the publication of the National Disability Strategy and the UK Disability Survey research report, four disabled people took the DWP to court for failing to conduct a proper consultation process on the strategy. They argued the UK Disability Survey of spring 2021 did not meet the standards required for a government consultation, as it didn’t give respondents an opportunity to shape the strategy. Respondents were asked only to respond to specific questions.

On 25 January 2022, the High Court’s judgment in R(Binder & Others) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions declared the strategy to be unlawful due to failures in the consultation process.

The following week, the DWP was refused an opportunity to appeal against the High Court’s ruling  and the High Court confirmed the whole strategy was unlawful, not just the consultation.

On 13 June 2022, Chloe Smith, then-Minister for Disabled People, updated parliament. She said the Government had applied for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal and in the meantime, some of the policies in the strategy were paused. The list of policies paused were set out in response the to a  parliamentary question and in a letter from Chloe Smith (DWP) to Virginia Crosbie MP.

In response to a parliamentary question in November 2022, the Minister for Disabled People, Tom Pursglove stated ‘the Secretary of State has been granted permission to appeal the Court’s declaration’. 

On 28 and 29 June 2023, the Court of Appeal heard the Governments appeal against the High Court’s judgement that the National Disability Startegy was unlawful. The Appeal Court’s judgement was handed down on 11 July 2023. Lady Justice Laing said:

I have decided that the Judge was wrong to decide that the Survey was subject to the requirements first described in Gunning (‘the Gunning requirements’). He was therefore also wrong to hold that the Secretary of State acted unlawfully by not complying with those requirements, and wrong to quash the Strategy.

According to their lawyers the claimants are planning to seek permission to appeal the Court of Appeal’s judgment to the High Court.

In a statement the folowing day, Tom Pursglove, Minister for Disabled People, set out the next steps for the strategy:

We need to take stock of what this decision means for individual National Disability Strategy commitments and evaluate how best to move forward. I will provide a further update in September to set out our next steps in more detail.

The Strategy’s progress

It was originally planned that progress on the strategy would be review each year. However, this did not happen in 2022 because some policies were paused following the High Court judgement.

In May 2023, in response to a parliamentary question, Tom Pursglove, Minster for Disabled People, said:

we will be providing details of the Government’s recent achievements to improve disabled people’s lives in the forthcoming Disability Action Plan consultation due for publication in the summer.

Ahead of this, I will write providing a list of these achievements and will place a copy in the House Library.

This letter was deposited in the Library on 4 July 2023.

More detail on the status of individual commitments, by department, were given in response to a series of parliamentary questions asked by Caroline Noakes in June 2023:

On 18 September 2023, Tom Pursglove, Minster for Disabled people, provided  a further update on the National Disability Strategy. The Minister then deposited a paper in the House of Commons Library to provide an update:

  • on how the Government now proposes to take this the 14 commitments that were paused to comply with the High Court’s declaration; and
  • on all departmental commitments in the National Disability Strategy. This includes details as to whether the individual commitments have been delivered or are in progress. There are 47 commitments which have been ‘completed’, 54 commitments ‘in progress’, 1 which is currently ‘paused’ and 2 which are no longer being taken forward.

Disability Action Plan 2023-2024 

In December 2022 Tom Pursglove, said a new Disability action plan would be consulted on and published in 2023. 

On 18 July 2023 the Government launched a consultation on the Disability Action Plan 2023 to 2024 .Tom Pursglove, Minster for Disabled People, introduced the plan in a written statement and explained:

The disability action plan will set out the immediate action the UK Government will take in 2023 and 2024 to improve disabled people’s lives and lay the foundations for longer-term change.

The consultation document sets out Government achievements in the last year, ongoing commitments by department, proposals for new actions led by the Disability Unit (DU) and 14 consultation questions on these actions.

The Disability Unit actions are divided into four areas:

1.  Improving disability inclusion in existing government policies:

  • access to elected office
  • playground accessibility
  • emergency planning and resilience work
  • climate adaptations and mitigations

2.  New actions focused on the specific needs of disabled people:

  • creating a Disability Enabled Badge to encourage disability awareness in businesses and services and improve access for disabled people
  • commissioning a feasibility report into Great Britain bidding to host the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2031
  • working to address access refusals for guide dogs
  • raising the profile of assistive technology

3.  Improving cross-government collaboration. The DU is proposing to establish task forces in the following areas:

  • wellbeing and opportunities for disabled children
  • support for disabled parents

4.  Strengthening the evidence base

  • disability evidence and data improvement programme
  • disability foresight

The consultation runs until 6 October 2023.

Further Information 

Related posts