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Development through economic empowerment: further commitment by DFID to people with disabilities

Ross McMullan, February 2017
A man with visual impairment talking on a mobile phone.

“Investing in people with disabilities can reduce poverty and inequality, and benefit whole communities”

Sightsavers believes that people with disabilities can lift their families and communities out of poverty if they are given the right opportunities to be financially independent.

The UK government’s first-ever Economic Development Strategy – launched on 31 January – commits the UK to establishing new trade, investment and economic links as a means of ending poverty and delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

The strategy, published by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), contains encouraging evidence that the government is keeping up its commitment to development which includes people with disabilities – the chief call of our Put Us in the Picture campaign for disability-inclusive development.

It also demonstrates that International Development Secretary Priti Patel is honouring her personal vision for the UK to be a global leader in disability-inclusive development.

We’re welcoming this positive, continuing commitment to ensure that the rights of the millions of people with disabilities in developing countries are fully taken into account.

What does the strategy say about people with disabilities?

The Economic Development Strategy outlines how the UK government aims to deliver economic development by “focusing on the poorest and marginalised people, the majority of whom work in the informal sector”.

Crucially, it also notes that it will “help marginalised groups, including people with disabilities, to access productive employment” – recognising that even when better jobs are available, people with disabilities are routinely excluded.

This commitment to enhancing the employment situation of people with disabilities is of critical significance.  Eighty per cent of the world’s one billion people with disabilities live in developing countries, according to a report (PDF) from the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Bank. And around 785 million people with disabilities could help lift their families and communities out of poverty, if they had the right education, training and opportunities, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has noted (PDF). But the WHO/World Bank report suggests people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed and generally earn less than their peers.

Economic case for inclusion

We believe the importance of this potential economic contribution by people with disabilities cannot be overlooked.  Inclusion does more than transform lives and families: it can also make a huge difference to national economies. Some countries are losing an estimated 3-7% of their GDP by excluding people with disabilities from the labour market, the ILO also notes.

So investing in people with disabilities can reduce poverty and inequality and benefit whole communities and countries. Our strategic framework on economic empowerment and inclusion (pdf) sets out our commitment in more detail.

And we’ve seen it work in practice too: our ground-breaking Connecting the dots project in rural western Uganda has delivered practical training to more than 320 young people – 98% of whom went on to earn money. It’s transformed their economic lives as well as delivering a huge shift in how they’re perceived in their communities.

We believe that it’s vital to remove the barriers which prevent people with disabilities participating fully in society, and unlocking their vast potential, so they can access productive employment and be economically independent. A key component will be financial inclusion, where people with disabilities can access banking and financial services. This is critical to addressing global poverty and empowering people to access their rights and actively participate in all aspects of society.

The change we seek

At Sightsavers we directly see the transformation of lives when people with disabilities are given the right opportunities to be financially independent. The vision of our Put Us in the Picture campaign is the full and active participation of the one billion people with disabilities.

DFID’s commitment to disability-inclusive development was first made in the 2014 Disability Framework Document, and strengthened in the department’s Bilateral Development Review published last December – as well as receiving strong endorsement in speeches by the Secretary of State. We’re encouraged to see DFID’s commitment carried over and outlined further in this first economic development strategy.

So if you share our vision, why not join our campaign for disability-inclusive development? You can join the Put Us in the Picture campaign here.

Ross McMullan is Policy Campaign Officer for Sightsavers’ Put Us in the Picture campaign, which calls on the international development community to make global development inclusive of people with disabilities

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