Bindmans LLP has issued court proceedings against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on behalf of four individual clients, seeking a lawful consultation on the proposed National Strategy for Disabled People. The claim argues that the Secretary of State’s consultation on the National Strategy is unlawful as limited information was provided about the strategy in the consultation and because the survey was designed in such a way to preclude proper and effective response.
On 15 January 2021, the UK Disability Survey was launched to ‘gather views’ for the development and delivery of the National Strategy for Disabled People. The Cabinet Office’s Disability Unit stated that the National Strategy ‘will transform British Society by improving opportunities and outcomes for disabled people’ with a focus on ‘practical action that will make a tangible difference to disabled people’s day-to-day lives.’ The areas covered by the Strategy will include education, housing, transport and the justice system.
However, virtually all questions in the survey were multiple-choice. Only four questions allowed free text responses, three of them being limited to 100 words and the other to 250 words. At no point did any of the questions outline any proposed content for the strategy or seek views on such content. The survey closes on 23 April 2021 and the proposed publication date of the National Strategy is spring 2021.
The Secretary of State has stated in a formal letter that the survey does not constitute a consultation, nor are they under an obligation to consult disabled people. This is despite the fact that the Disability Unit’s own website lists the survey as an ‘Open Consultation’, and a previous blog from the Disability Unit described an ‘ongoing consultation.’
Bindmans LLP’s clients in this matter are four disabled adults: Doug, Jean, Miriam and Vicki. Each completed the survey expecting to give their views on what a National Strategy for Disabled People should contain. For the claimants, this ranged from accessible public buildings, to changes in the welfare benefit system, to public transport.
Instead, they were constrained to multiple choice questions such as ‘have you had any difficulty accessing any of these public services in the last month?’, with the only possible responses being: ‘no difficulties’, ‘some difficulties’, ‘a lot of difficulties’ and ‘not accessed.’ There was no opportunity to explain what difficulties the Claimants face or to propose any solutions. The Claimants were all frustrated by the inability to explain the barriers they faced in their lives and what changes would actually make a ‘tangible difference’ to their day-to-day lives.
Since the survey launched in January 2021, Disabled People’s Organisations have expressed concerns in relation to the government’s consultation on the National Strategy and the survey.
Doug, one of the Claimants in this challenge, said:
The Secretary of State’s approach to consulting disabled people, on a National Strategy which aims to ‘transform’ the lives of disabled people, is immensely disrespectful. Disabled people are best placed to say what changes would improve their own lives. This survey has not given disabled people any meaningful opportunity to do so, and therefore any strategy developed from the survey will be imposed on disabled people without their voices being heard.
Solicitor at Bindmans, Shirin Marker, who represents the Claimants said:
It is disappointing that the Secretary of State has taken this approach to consulting on a national strategy of potentially huge significance to disabled people. It is clear from the Claimants’ perspective that the survey is wholly inadequate in seeking their views on the National Strategy. We hope that the Secretary of State will reassess her position and commit to carrying out a lawful consultation. Any further delay in carrying out a lawful consultation will only delay the National Strategy, an undesirable position for all those in need of this strategy.
The Claimants are seeking an order that the consultation is quashed and declared unlawful, requiring the Secretary of State to consult lawfully before she adopts a new strategy for disabled people.
The Claimants are represented by Jamie Potter, Shirin Marker and Amy O’Shea of Bindmans, and Steve Broach and Katherine Barnes of 39 Essex Street chambers.