Disabled people in Britain face an uphill battle for real equality and are more than twice as likely to be living in food poverty than non-disabled people, according to a damning new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Its report, ‘Being disabled in Britain: A journey less equal‘, says people with disabilities “are being left behind in society” and warns progress towards real equality for disabled people is “littered with missed opportunities and failures”.
The report is described as the most “comprehensive” analysis of the rights of disabled people ever published, and calls for “a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain”.
According to the analysis, disabled people living in Britain today lack equal opportunities in education and employment, and face significant barriers to accessing transport, health services and housing. Adding that the cumulative impact of several years of government welfare cuts is “significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people”.
The EHRC has forwarded the report to the United Nations, ahead of its examination of the UK’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), which has been signed and ratified by the UK Government.
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David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, said: “Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.
“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.
“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”
He added: “This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.
“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.
“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”
Disabled people in Britain face disadvantages in many areas of life, including, but not limited to, a refusal by society (and some may say politicians) to treat them as equal citizens. Many are denied the same opportunities and outcomes enjoyed by non-disabled people.
Educational performance of disabled people is much lower than for non-disabled people, with the number of Special Needs children who achieve 5 A*-C GCSEs three times lower than their peers. They are also more likely to be suspended or expelled from school. The proportion of disabled people with no formal qualifications is almost three times that of non-disabled people.
Disabled people also face greater barriers to employment. Less than half of people with disabilities are in work, compared to 80 per cent of non-disabled adults. The ‘disability employment gap’ – the difference between the number of disabled and non-disabled people in work – has continued to widen since the Conservatives formed a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats in 2010.
Disabled people in work tend to earn less than non-disabled people, with young disabled women paid the lowest median hourly earnings of all social groups.
People with disabilities are also more likely to be living in poverty, as are households where at least one member is disabled. 18.4 per cent of disabled people aged 16-64 are living in food poverty compared with 7.5 per cent of non-disabled people, with those over the age of 65 twice as likely as non-disabled adults to be in food poverty.
Securing access to housing and healthcare can also a monumental struggle for disabled Brits, due to a shortage in accessible homes and cuts to mental health services.
And changes to legal aid in England and Wales are having a detrimental effect on disabled people’s access to justice. The number of employment tribunals relating to disability discrimination has dropped by 54 per cent, since the introduction of extortionate fees in 2013.
Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said: “It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out.
“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people.
“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed.
“If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”
Paul Spencer, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the mental health charity Mind, said: “We welcome this comprehensive report which shines a light on the wide-ranging issues disabled people encounter. It’s unacceptable that in this day and age, disabled people still face so many disadvantages across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.
“The findings echo our own research, particularly when it comes to work and benefits. We’ve found that when you have a mental health problem you face a number of barriers to getting and staying in work, including employer attitudes and a welfare system which focuses on sanctions rather than supporting people back into appropriate work.
“We know that stopping or threatening to stop someone’s benefits when they’re too unwell to work is cruel, inappropriate, and ineffective at helping them back into employment.
“We support the Government’s ambition to halve the disability employment gap, but if this is to become a reality, we urgently need to see a radical overhaul of the benefits and back-to-work system, and workplaces valuing the contribution disabled employees can make.
“The Government has stated that it is committed to treating mental health and physical health equally, yet if you have a mental health problem you’re less likely to be eligible for benefits like Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
“After years of chronic underfunding of mental health services, people are still facing all sorts of daily injustices. Whether that is travelling hundreds of miles from home and loved ones to find a bed in a mental health hospital or waiting months for talking therapies or even being held in a police cell when you’re unwell because there is nowhere else to take you.
“We are pleased that greater investment has been promised over the next five years but we’re still a long way where we need to be.
“Cuts to local government funding have put a strain on the support available to people to live well in the community and the cumulative effect of this is that disabled people are still not getting access the holistic care and support they need, when they need it.”
A Government spokesman dismissed the findings: “We are committed to ensuring that a disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life”, the spokesperson said.
“The UK is a world leader in this area and we are proud of the work we do to support people with disabilities and health conditions, to increase opportunities and tackle inaccessibility.
“Not only do we spend over £50 billion a year to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more of our GDP than Japan, Canada and France – we also offer a wide range of tailored and effective support.
“Our focus is on helping disabled people find and stay in work, whilst providing support for those who can’t.”