Justine Greening – 2015 Speech on Disabilities and Foreign Aid


Below is the text of the speech made by Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, on 3 December 2015.

It’s an absolute pleasure to be able to be part of this event today. It is a big celebration and this room I think is a real fitting place to hold this event.

As Lord Low has just said DFID has been on a journey. And I think the development community has been on a journey, over the last couple of years in particular, as we talked about what we wanted the successors to the Millennium Development Goals to be.

There were lots of things missing from those original goals. They were an incredible step forward but there were things missing. And one of those was the lack of really any recognition of how development fitted with disability. And that was something that we were very keen to fix. The select committee was quite right in flagging up this also as an issue.

And I wanted to start by paying tribute to Lynne Featherstone, who this time last year was the Parliamentary under-Secretary of State. Lynne did a fantastic job of really taking that starting point and starting to get us on the track where we ended up on another step today. So a big thank you to Lynne.

I would like to pay tribute also to the work of Baroness Verma and all of the work our DFID staff have done to shape what I think is this really big step forward for us in the department.

The concept of ‘Leaving no on behind’ underpins, I think, what the Sustainable Development Goals are really all about. And disability is a massive part of that. I wanted to recognise today the huge efforts of the International Disability Alliance and indeed the disability community as a whole… and not only the for the advocacy that you have done…you have done more than that – you’ve actually changed things on the ground to help get us to where we are.

But in the end this work is just starting. We’re really at the beginning of the journey. We’ve taken a decision that we need to start that journey but we’re at the beginning of it and I think we should acknowledge that.

I know for many people in this audience you are the ones that understand, perhaps more than anyone else in the development community, why this issue matters and why it is something that we should be putting at centre stage of our development work.

And we know how many people it affects, something like 80% of people with disabilities live in developing countries. And the barriers that people face aren’t just physical ones, although we know that there are many and that they are immense. But they end up being cultural ones and social barriers too.

So this is a complex set of challenges that we have to address and the consequences of not doing it means that we will have this status quo, that we have currently got, where we know that people with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, they are less likely to get to school, in some cases they literally won’t be able to participate in life. So it is vital that we make more progress on this.

So what have we been doing? I’ll spend a little bit of time talking about what we have done over the last year. So this time last year we published this Disability Framework which set out the architecture of how we were going to look at disability and how we were going to start thinking about it within our own policy work. One year on I think we have seen some real progress and we have already started making changes. Some of them are not big changes, but they make a huge difference.

Not a particularly big change for us was to say that if we are involved in building schools then they should be able to be accessible for everyone. When you look at how much that might put up the cost it’s literally half of one percent. But it makes a transformational difference. We’re already making those changes.

In fact we’ve been working with Leonard Cheshire Disability that does fantastic work both here in the UK…and I am privileged to have some of that happen in the London Borough that I represent a part of…but also in places like Kenya and Zimbabwe where they have worked on the education agenda.

In Ghana, DFID are now working on putting in extra physicians who are particularly able to provide support to people with mental health and psychosocial impairments.

Through UK Aid Match we have been working with Sightsavers which is enabling us to do very simple operations but ones that make a transformational difference in people lives, and their broader community.

So I think we have come a long way but there is a much, much longer way to go.

So the key for us has been around not just to have disability being part of what we do – but fundamentally mainstreaming it through all of our work. So whatever project we are looking at we look at it through the lens of how can we make progress on development and disability through this particular programme. So that means coming back to looking at some of the physical, practical barriers. It also means looking at some of those broad social barriers.

We need a research agenda on this – which we are now putting in place. We need to properly understand the evidence around how we can make sure that when we’re investing we get the biggest bang for the buck and the most change. Investing in research with people like Leonard Cheshire Disability and University College London. Making sure that on a really simple basis that we are disaggregating data, not just in terms of gender, but also in terms of disability. Then we will understand how our work affects people with disabilities and how broader development work affects people with disabilities.

So we are going to be continuing to challenging ourselves to do more on this. There is a very long way to go I think. Today we are launching our new updated Disability Framework. It sets out that we will drive progress in three core areas:

One is economic empowerment. We have made big progress in DFID on jobs and livelihoods – but we really want to make sure that that has this leave no one behind element of it, and particularly in relation to people with disabilities.

On mental health, which I think just generally is something that the UK itself has been trying to get our own house in order on.

But also critically on this issue of stigma and discrimination. It is such an important area to focus on but it is complex, it’s difficult. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t challenge ourselves to try and tackle some of the underlying reasons why, in spite of all the work that we might do on physical things and practical things that can help, in the end there’s a society piece of this too. So more work there – that’s the third challenge we have really set ourselves.

I want to finish by saying again thank you for contribution to the work that’s being done in the department. So many people here have contributed to where we have got to today.

But really to give you our clear assurance from a DFID perspective that we see this as a fundamental part of how we need to be looking at our development work. It is not a bolt on. It is something that we are mainstreaming throughout everything that we do. We are learning as we do that we need your help to help us go further faster over the coming years. But we’ve made a good start and I hope that is something that we can build on in the future. Thank you very much for inviting me here today.