Reflections on the Disability Action Plan

Amy Little

The Disability Action Plan was published last week. It had the ambitious aim of making the UK the ‘most accessible place in the world for disabled people to live, work and thrive’. Do the 32 Actions add up to a ground breaking plan? Will it deliver in the year ahead? Let’s explore.

The most accessible place in the world

Screenshot of the definition of Accessible from the OED. Acessible, adj. Capable of being entered or approached; easy of access; readily reached or got hold of.

Accessible: ‘Capable of being entered or approached; easy of access; readily reached or got hold of.’ [Oxford English Dictionary

Well, it’s not for us to discuss if the UK can or can’t easily be entered, despite it being a hot topic. So, let’s examine whether the Disability Action Plan will improve the accessibility of daily life for disabled people.

In or out?

Perhaps most revealing is what’s not in the plan, rather than what is. To be fair, the government has acknowledged this point, saying areas not in the plan require longer-term action. Instead, they are included in the National Disability Strategy, or being considered by other government departments. 

These areas include:

  • Accessibility in transport and the built environment
  • Financial support
  • Employment and workplace support
  • Health and social care
  • Informal support
  • Education
  • Disability or accessibility-related legislation

Taking the consultation feedback onboard, it’s arguably these areas that matter most to disabled people. It’s disappointing not to see a more comprehensive cross-government plan that brings all these issues together. There’s a promise to share consultation feedback on these areas with relevant government departments. For truly transformative disability policy we need a joined-up approach and clear milestones. 

We need to hear from the government’s disability champions and departmental secretaries of state that they will take action. Equally in an election year, we need to hear that same commitment from opposition parties. Are all our politicians committed to the one in five of our population that lives with disability?

Social care

Access to good social care is one of the biggest enablers for working-age disabled people to live equal lives. The Disability Action Plan was published on the same day the final Local Government Funding Settlement was announced.

Yet funding for social care has fallen short in the settlement and local authorities, care providers and MPs are ringing alarm bells. The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee of MPs called on the Government 'to recognise the need for more funding to local authorities for delivery of adult social care, in the order of several billions each year'. We echo this call and estimate that at least £2bn is needed to fund the much-needed increase in National Living Wage from April 2024 alone.

Up to one in five local authorities are warning of bankruptcy concerns. Two in five (39%) adult social care providers considering exiting the market. There's a perfect storm of workforce shortages, rising demand and rising costs, combined with years of delays to social care reform. This is creating a major gap between social care demand and delivery. For this reason, it demanded inclusion in the Action Plan.

Accessing the right care and support is not simply a ‘nice to have’, but a right. This right is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and under the Care Act 2014. Failure to rectify the gap in social care funding risks leaving many more disabled people without this vital care and support. Joined up, cross-government action on social care is needed.

Taking the consultation feedback onboard, it’s arguably these areas that matter most to disabled people. It’s disappointing not to see a more comprehensive cross-government plan that brings all these issues together.


Employment was not addressed in the plan. The government instead signposted to its Transforming Support: Health and Disability White Paper and the Back to Work Plan. Like many who responded to the consultation, we wanted to see more detail on the government’s inclusive employment activity. There was greater detail in the consultation document itself than the final plan. We're still not seeing a joined-up offer of genuine support to disabled people seeking work. Instead, threats of sanctions and conditionality remain.

The action plan could have been a chance to re-commit to improving Access to Work. Access to Work can be a lifeline for disabled people, the key to remaining in or moving into work. Yet there are still long delays for applicants to the scheme and too many employers are unaware of it. Successive Ministers for Disabled People have promised to fix Access to Work. This is a tangible goal that could have been delivered during the action plan's timeframe.

The draft action plan promised to increase the number of internships in the civil service. It cited Leonard Cheshire's Change 100 programme - recognising its success. As we match our 2024 Change 100 applicants with prospective employers, we will work to hold the government to this previously stated aim. 

Cost of Living

The Disability Action Plan has a new section on the Cost of Living, named ‘Improve understanding of the cost of living for disabled people.’

A wealth of published research exists to evidence the impact the increased cost of living is having on disabled households. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) more than half (54%) of disabled people are struggling to afford their energy bills. In addition, 45% are finding it difficult to afford their rent or mortgage payments. According to the Trussell Trust, 69% of people referred to foodbanks are disabled. Scope shows that disabled households face £975 in extra costs a month compared to non-disabled households. Spending on food and energy makes up a disproportionate amount of the total costs disabled people face.

We have calculated that disabled households who are high energy users face an average bill that is £809 more a year compared to average use households. Yet the last form of targeted support to disabled people was the £150 payment made in June 2023.

What we're not seeing in this new addition to the action plan are any firm commitments. There is a vague action for the Disability Unit to 'engage across government to highlight concerns related to disabled people and the cost of living'. We hope the Treasury, in particular, hears and acts on these concerns. 

In the upcoming Spring Budget we need to see: 

  1. Targeted financial support for disabled people
  2. An extension of the Household Support Fund
  3. The reconsideration of an energy social tariff 

There is a re-commitment in the plan to explore an Extra Costs Taskforce via the National Disability Strategy. We need a stronger commitment to deliver it. Disabled people are choosing between heating and eating right now, there’s no time for further delay.

Disabled people are choosing between heating and eating right now, there’s no time for further delay.

Some positives

There are positive developments in the action plan, like tackling guide dog refusals. Government communications will be more accessible via British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation at major press conferences. Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and disability charities have long fought for this. It took too long to have BSL interpreters at Covid-19 daily briefings.

There is also a commitment to better include disabled people’s needs in emergency and resilience planning. Perhaps these commitments are a signal that lessons learnt via the ongoing Covid Inquiry are beginning to be acted on.

There is a plan to measure how effective policies and services across government are for disabled people. This will be via better data and evaluation processes. We hope this will lead to better implementation of the public sector equality duty.

Our verdict

We've digested the 32 action points. At this point we’re not convinced the Disability Action Plan alone will make the UK the most accessible place in the world for disabled people. It seems we'll be waiting some time longer for truly transformative disability policy. 

In the year ahead, will all political parties get disability rights in their election manifestos? Will they launch their manifestos with BSL and in accessible formats? Let's see.