On 3 December, we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Established in 1992, it aims to promote the rights of disabled people and to increase awareness of the issues facing those with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
This government has a long way to go when it comes to protecting and advancing the rights of disabled people. In August, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) published a damning report condemning the UK government on its record. Described as a “human catastrophe” by the CRPD‘s Chair, the report called out the governments “retrogressive measures” and highlighted all the areas where disabled people are disproportionately suffering; from education to employment, to access to justice and voting in elections.
Half of those who live in poverty are disabled or live with someone who is disabled. The last seven years of Tory austerity have seen things get worse, with cuts to the NHS, social care, and local authority services having particularly damaging effect on disabled people. What’s more, the government’s cuts to social security support have also had a disproportionate effect.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission recently released a report on the cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms since 2010. The report showed that those with a disability, or a caring responsibility for a child with a disability, have been hit the hardest. Households with a disabled adult and a disabled child are the biggest losers from the reforms on average, with cash losses of over £5,500 a year. This is a loss of over 13 per cent of their net incomes on average. The next biggest losers are those with disabled children, who lose on average almost £3,300 per year. The report also highlighted that benefit and tax credit changes, along with the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), have been more damaging to households with more disability issues than those without – with households losing an average of 9 per cent of net income from the benefit and tax credit changes, plus almost 3 per cent more from the introduction of UC.
What we have seen under the Tory government is the creation of a system that ultimately makes life worse for a group in society that already faces significant barriers and challenges. As this government’s own data reveals, the social security system that they have created is seeing disabled people die after being declared fit for work. It is truly appalling.
On top of this, there is now uncertainty about the rights and resources for disabled people in light of Brexit. For example the European Accessibility Act is now stuck in limbo, contained in EU directives that have not been transposed into UK law before the date of our departure from the EU. The Act is going to standardise and simplify the market for different products disabled people need in the workplace and at home.
This includes things like computers, ATMs, ticketing and check-in machines, travel services, mobile phones and so forth – the basics of modern working life. This Act would deal with one of the key arguments businesses and employers make when reneging on access requirements by reducing the costs associated with such products, yet the UK may now never see its benefits.
The financial costs are also deeply worrying. The European Social Fund is currently investing £4.3bn across the UK until 2020 – which supports access to employment for people with disabilities. Much like the pledges to the NHS that we saw during the referendum, it is unclear where funding for these programmes will come from in the future. And this government refused to support our amendments to protect disabled people’s rights under the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
This week the government published its Improving Lives Command Paper. It drops the ambition to half the disability employment gap by 2020, and kicks the issue of disability employment into the long grass.
It’s clear that we need to be championing the rights of disabled people more than ever, given the harm caused over the last seven years.
It was a privilege last month to be appointed Shadow Minister for Disabled People and as a disabled woman myself I know how much needs to be done to improve the opportunities for our community.
I am proud to be part of a Labour Party that supports a social model of disability as described in our manifesto developed with and for disabled people: “nothing about you, without you”. Labour recognises people may have a condition or an impairment but they are disabled by society. We will transform the social security system and reduce the disability employment gap. Every disabled person has the right to work, the right to travel, the right to good education and the right to live in society without discrimination. As we celebrate United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we must remember that disability rights are human rights.
Marsha de Cordova is the shadow minister for disabled people.