Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into focus the continuing existence of deep-rooted inequalities in our society. As we recover from the impacts of the pandemic our well-being objectives, set out in the Programme for Government, focus on the areas where action is needed and help us build a stable foundation for the future.
In March, I outlined how the Disability Equality Forum took up the challenge with energy and resolve to write the Locked Out: Liberating disabled people’s lives and rights in Wales beyond COVID-19 report, which was co-produced by Professor Debbie Foster of Cardiff Business School and a Steering Group of disabled people representing Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and charities. The Steering Group was chaired by Rhian Davies, Chief Executive of Disability Wales.
The report has acutely highlighted the toll the pandemic has inflicted on disabled people, exacerbating existing inequality and generating additional harms. It is structured around 5 main chapters, namely the Social versus the Medical Model of disability; Human rights; Health and Well-Being; Socio-economic disadvantages and Exclusion, Accessibility and Citizenship.
This important report has provided us with a wealth of insights and a large number of recommendations upon which to base further action. When the report was first received by the Welsh Government, the First Minister convened a meeting with the authors which was attended by the Minister for Health and Social Services and myself, to discuss the findings and immediately set in motion appropriate actions to address them.
Today we are publishing the report alongside the Welsh Government’s response which highlights the work we have already put in place to address many of these issues. Our continued commitment to the Social Model of Disability, which is the subject of the first chapter, provides the overarching ethos to address the recommendations in the rest of the report.
We have undertaken to strengthen the human rights framework by incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled People into Welsh law. This represents a significant commitment to supporting and improving the lives of disabled people, which will build on the provisions of the Socio-economic Duty which came into force in Wales on 31 March 2021. The Duty will improve decision making and help those who are socio-economically disadvantaged by putting tackling inequality at the heart of decision-making.
As I said in my Oral statement marking the International Day of Disabled People , the work already undertaken gives us much to be proud of in Wales. However, we have a good deal more work to do to roll back the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and address the stubborn, deep-rooted inequalities in our society. In all of the areas highlighted in the report we undertake to consider further the evidence presented and to engage in meaningful dialogue about how best to mitigate harmful impacts on disabled people. Where necessary, we will seek additional evidence to get a true picture of those impacts.
The First Minister has agreed to establish a Minister-led Disability Rights Taskforce to take forward this work, to address the inequalities highlighted by the report and oversee the development of actions that will form a Disability Rights Action Plan. Some of these actions will be for the Welsh Government to implement and others will need to be undertaken in conjunction with our partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors .The Taskforce membership will combine cross-sectoral expertise with representatives selected by the Disability Equality Forum to ensure the Taskforce reflects both the cross-cutting nature of the report and the diverse nature of Wales. Disabled people will be at the forefront of this work throughout.
I am pleased to be able to publish the Locked Out: Liberating disabled people’s lives and rights in Wales beyond COVID-19 report and to outline some of the work the Welsh Government is taking to address its findings. I look forward to engaging fully with the Taskforce to explore and set in motion further action to ensure that we achieve our ambition to build a stronger and fairer Wales.