Disability Action is the largest pan-disability organisation and charity in the UK and Ireland. We are a Disabled person’s led organisation (DPO) advocating for the rights of d/Deaf and Disabled people. We provide services which are developed for and by d/Deaf and Disabled people. These services include: employment support services, human rights and independent advocacy, campaigns, community integration and digital connectivity, transport, information and advice, mental health and wellbeing and disability specialist support.

Disability Action operates within the region of Northern Ireland but engages with Westminster and the UK Government on matters of relevance. Disability Action represents deaf people, Disabled people and organisations which extend across all disabilities.

Disability Action Northern Ireland delivers services developed for and by d/Deaf and Disabled people. Our above-mentioned services are designed by Disabled people for Disabled people.

1 in 4 people in Northern Ireland are disabled people. Disability Action represent the views of 335 organisations working to advance change for disabled people.

· 9 out of 10 disabled people continue to find it difficult to find and keep a job.

· 8 out of 10 disabled people report that housing is inaccessible to them

· 8 out of 10 disabled people do not have enough money to have a decent life.

· 7 out of 10 disabled people do not have enough access to support to live independently

Disability Action are aware that the budget presented here, and the proposed cuts, come from a situation not of the Department’s making. We are aware that this is a challenging time. The absence of Ministers and the political institutions and the budget constraints place organisations and individuals at great risk.

Disability Inequality is a reality in our society and progress to address this is slow. Poverty, disadvantage, and barriers to employment disproportionately impact disabled people. Section 75 statutory duties are the key means available to public authorities to address inequalities and demonstrate measurable positive impact on the lives of people experiencing inequalities. The purpose of EQIAs in general is that the Department is obliged to consider impacts on protected groups. These Section 75 groups are listed in the first place because they are the groups most likely to be adversely impacted. The purpose is not merely to identify disproportionate impacts but to actively mitigate against them and ideally to seek opportunities to promote equality for these groups. Over time and in practice. The EQIA identifies multiple adverse impacts but does not present mitigations.

Disability Action support the contributions of other organisations that the DfC EQIA document does not comprehensively consider all the potential equality impacts of its 23/24 budget proposals on disabled people. It is therefore the position of Disability Action EQIA and the proposed decisions within it do not meet the statutory requirements under Section 75.

The proposed decisions within the EQIA should be considered in the context of the letter issued by Jayne Brady Head of the Civil Service on the 22nd of May 2023 which called for meeting with political parties to re-establish the institutions. In this letter Jayne Brady referred to a governance gap. The letter outlined that only Ministers could take major policy decisions. Within the letter Jayne Brady states the following the current political situation:

“leaves the accounting officer in the invidious position of having no lawful means to ensure full compliance with the duty to remain within budget limits".

The Department has a statutory duty to target resources on the basis of objective need under Section 28E of the 1998 Act. Justice Treacy’s judgment concluded that there is a statutory provision to allocate resources on the basis of objective need. Given the disproportionate impact of the proposed decisions on disabled people who are recognised as most of risk of poverty and deprivation. The proposals do not meet the statutory requirements of Section 28E.

All of this poses questions as to whether it is fit and proper that the budget cuts as proposed can proceed.

Specifically, in respect of:

1. The needs and issues of disabled people to gain employment and employers to recruit disabled people. While the EQIA document confirms DfC policy remit to i) provide advice and support for those seeking employment, ii) support disabled peoples’ full participation in society, and iii) promote social inclusion. There is no funding allocated for replacement ESF support and LMPs (from 01 July), which will have a substantial adverse effect on these DfC policy areas.

2. In addition, while not referenced in the EQIA document DfC has separately withdrawn without consultation, the Workable NI Jobsearch Element Payment for 23/24 that allowed the three Workable NI providers (USEL Ltd, SES and Disability Action) to directly support individuals without a suitable job opportunity and employers to recruit and retain people with disabilities. This is in contradiction to DfC’s current Workable NI guidelines in place for 23/24 that still makes specific reference to the Jobsearch Element Payment support criteria.

3. The EQIA document also makes specific reference at 7.iv to USEL Ltd (ALB) as the largest provider of support for people with disabilities

and health conditions to move into and sustain work. The removal of the Jobsearch Element Payment from Workable NI specifically prevents USEL Ltd (alongside SES and Disability Action) from continuing to support disabled people to move into work. The EQIA document is therefore incomplete and incorrect by not including the rationale for this decision, the direct impacts on disabled people seeking work and employers seeking to recruit and retain disabled people as a result of this decision and DfC mitigating actions.

4. The EQIA document in reference to 7.v Third Party Organisations does not provide any specific detail in relation to the organisations it specifically match funded via ESF and the numbers of disabled people and those economically inactive who secured and sustained paid work. As a result, the EQIA document is incomplete in respect of the potential impacts on disabled people and economically people of not allocating a replacement for ESF support, nor in providing any mitigations.

5. In summary lack of consideration of mitigations and/or alternative policies for employment programmes (specifically pre-employment and sustained employment) and the NI disability employment gap.

6. Cuts to Discretionary Support Grants, particularly now as demand is so high, will disproportionately impact upon disabled people, who are more often on lower incomes and more likely to live in poverty.

7. Reductions of rates support grants will disproportionately impact upon disabled people, who are more often on lower incomes and more likely to live in poverty.

8. No funding to Executive and New Decade New Approach commitments including Social Inclusion strategies will disproportionately impact on disabled people due to our increased risk of poverty and the continued absence of a disability strategy.

9. Cuts to social security delivery will disproportionately impact upon disabled people.

10. Reductions to the NIHE budget will lead to longer delays in housing adaptations, reductions in supporting people and increased risk of homelessness all of which disproportionately impact upon disabled people.

11. There is a significant deficit in the provision of accessible social homes. The reduction in building will further reduce opportunities for disabled people to access an accessible lifetime home.

12. The proposal to reduce the budge for Adaptations grants will leave disabled people trapped in inaccessible homes.

Disability Action conclude that the proposed budget reductions do not meet statutory provisions as outlined within Section 75 and 28E. Disability Action recommend that proposals are reconsidered, and mitigations provided.

For further information contact Nuala Toman, Head of Policy, Information, Communications and Advocacy, Disability Action at [email protected]