Following several delays, the UK Government’s National Disability Strategy was published in July 2021, but it has now been ruled unlawful by the High Court due to its failure to properly consult disabled people.
According to Disability Rights UK, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was challenged by four disabled people on the strategy, which includes proposals for an Access To Work ‘passport’ that aims to enable ‘smooth transitions between job roles’ and an audit of UK mainline railway stations.
The judgment’s introduction, from Mr Justice Griffiths, read: “They claim that the defendant failed to consult lawfully, via its UK Disability Survey, before publishing a National Disability Strategy document on 21 July 2021 and that, consequently, the Strategy itself is unlawful.”
All four claimants – Miriam Binder, Jean Eveleigh, Victoria Hon and Doug Paulley – argued that Thérèse Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, had not provided sufficient information on the strategy during a survey in January 2021, which had not allowed for a ‘meaningful response’.
The judgement cited government evidence, from the Director of the Disability Unit, Marcus Bell, which claimed that the survey was ‘not a consultation’ and was never intended to be a formal consultation exercise on any proposal, particularly the National Disability Strategy
Instead, the survey served the Unit as a ‘listening and gathering exercise’, according to Bell, despite the survey being described as part of the Unit’s ‘ongoing consultation’ on the issue when launched.
Mr Justice Griffiths ruled that the UK Government had ‘voluntarily embarked on a consultation’ and that the survey ‘was at the heart’ of said consultation.
He added the Work and Pensions Secretary “took on a duty to consult which she did not properly discharge and, as a result, the consultation she carried out, principally through the Survey, was not lawful”.
The judge continued to add that the multiple-choice format of the survey, as well as the word limit on free-form responses, did not allow for a proper response to the issues canvassed in the survey.
“The design of the Survey forced the defendant’s own analysis on respondents, without providing enough leeway for the required ‘intelligent response’ from the respondents themselves.”
While Mr Justice Griffiths found the strategy was unlawful, he did not rule that the government had a legal duty to consult on its proposals and concluded it had not breached the Public Sector Equality Duty under the Equality Act.
Solicitor Shirin Marker from Bindmans LLP, who represents the four claimants, said he hopes the secretary will ‘now seek to rectify this unlawfulness’ through ‘proper and lawful consultation with disabled people and their organisations’.
He explained that the ruling is something that the claimants had sought since February last year and that any appeal of the judgement will inevitably delay the necessary policy reform that is needed to support and improve the lives of the UK’s disabled citizens.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said they were ‘disappointed’ with the judgment and will ‘consider our next steps carefully’.
“We engaged with disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, carers and others as part of the National Disability Strategy. We remain committed to improving the everyday lives of disabled people, and the National Disability Strategy has already made significant inroads,” they said.
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