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Last Updated: Monday, 30 January 2006, 16:57 GMT
Disability chief slams government
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website age & disability correspondent

Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, Bert Massie
Bert Massie attacked the government for 'lazy fatalism'
The chairman of the Disability Rights Commission has attacked the government for sidelining disabled people.

During a speech in central London, Bert Massie said the problem lay in "a lazy fatalism and a low expectations culture" over those with disabilities.

He said targets for reducing poverty and increasing the number of people in work risked being missed.

Mr Massie told the BBC housing policies failed disabled people, while teaching with phonics excluded deaf children.

The DRC is launching an advertising campaign to highlight the impact of discrimination on the lives of disabled people.

Mr Massie told BBC Radio Four's Today programme the needs of disabled people needed to be considered at the beginning of government policy.

Our argument is that disability, disabled people, has to be at the centre of government policy across all policies, otherwise those policies will fail
Bert Massie
Disability Rights Commission

"You consider the needs of deaf children immediately at the beginning of the policy, not as a little add-on towards the end," he said on phonics.

He went on: "Across a whole swathe of public policy, disabled people have not been taken into account and because of that, the government is going to miss the target it's setting for the whole population.

"What we're actually facing - I think - in government, is a lazy fatalism," he said.

"Our argument is that disability, disabled people, has to be at the centre of government policy across all policies, otherwise those policies will fail."

'Left behind'

During his speech at Westminster Hall, Mr Massie was joined by Conservative leader David Cameron and disability minister Anne McGuire.

Mr Cameron said his party was committed to helping disabled people to live more independent lives, boosting support for carers and simplifying the benefit system.

Bert Massie, left, with Tory leader David Cameron
Tory leader David Cameron, right, said more help was needed

"We have got to do more as a society to help disabled people, and families looking after disabled children, live independent lives and support them in the home, rather than go into institutional care," he said.

According to the DRC, recent figures show that the number of disabled adults and people with long-term health conditions living in poverty has grown in the past ten years.

"The inequality experienced by disabled people affects us all," said Mr Massie.

"It stands between this government and the ability to achieve its core ambitions for Britain - despite positive steps in some areas, public policy is in danger of leaving disabled people behind."

The DRC chairman says that addressing some of the key challenges in public policy - unemployment, child poverty, a lack of skills - means having to consider the circumstances of disabled people.

"Only by putting disability at the heart of public policy can policy succeed today and in the future," he said.

"But for some reason...public policy makers are not thinking about disability - it's considered something 'over there'...something to do with wheelchairs and ramps."

The DRC points out that four out of ten people who are out of work have disabilities.

It says that the rate of income poverty amongst working-age disabled adults is double that of non-disabled adults and had risen over the past decade.


And in addressing the skills shortage facing the UK economy, the DRC points out that a third of people who have no qualifications at all are disabled - a gap which has widened since 1997.

"Successive governments have failed to break the culture of low expectations that holds disabled people back - including the present administration," said Mr Massie said in his speech.

We now need a real step change in the very fabric of society - a change in attitudes, behaviour and values
Anne McGuire
Disability minister

"There is a lazy fatalism that too often shapes the perceptions that politicians have of disabled people."

Mr Massie said the failure to address disability stood between the government and its own targets.

As examples, Mr Massie cited:

  • The introduction of phonics in literacy teaching which takes no account of deaf children
  • The steep rise in the institutionalisation of people with learning disabilities and mental health problems
  • The refusal to introduce lifetime homes standards - which would make the housing stock more accessible and more easily adaptable - which fails to consider people's long-term needs

The issue could be better tackled, he thinks, if perceptions changed.

"Society still tends to come from the point of view that its best response to disability is through, care, welfare and charity rather than extending rights, opportunities and citizenship," he says.

"Our historic approach to disability has been to institutionalise low expectations of disabled people."

The government has taken a number of steps since 1997 to reduce the inequalities between disabled and non-disabled people.

Disability minister Anne McGuire said that after the legislative changes made by government, it was time that people's attitudes caught up with reality.

"We now need a real step change in the very fabric of society - a change in attitudes, behaviour and values," she said.

She reminded the audience that the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act was not the legislation that people had been demanding.

That was why a Labour government had had to legislate again in 2005 to consolidate the rights of disabled people.

"We have a duty to make sure that our reforms really do raise expectations," she added.

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