Disabled people could lose more than any other social group if the UK votes to leave the European Union (EU), a Labour MEP has warned today (Friday).
Richard Howitt MEP, Co-President of the European Parliament’s all-party Disability Rights Group of MEPs, says millions of people with disabilities stand to lose a number of important rights and employment support.
These include: accessibility rights, jobs assistance, and the right to legal defence when challenging denial of social care services.
In a speech to disability charity, The Papworth Trust, Mr Howitt, who worked in Disability Movement before starting a career in politics, said the debate surrounding the UK’s continued membership of the EU should me more about “people not politicians”.
Mr Howitt told the charity: “In all the talk of ‘free movement’, what about the right of a wheelchair user to move freely to visit another European country?
“Discrimination doesn’t stop at borders”, he said.
“On the table, we have a European-wide general Accessibility Act, that could further transform the lives of millions of people.
“People with disabilities will always campaign to pull down barriers. In the European referendum, the Disability Movement should campaign against erecting new barriers.”
Around 87,000 people with disabilities were moved closer to work last year through European-funded training, says Mr Howitt.
“British disabled people have been helped towards the world of work by European Social Funding – 87,000 British people with disabilities just in the last year.”
“In addition, the legal exemption from EU state aid rules to allow public authorities to directly contract, provides an important boost for people with disabilities to set up and run their own social enterprises.”
Mr Howitt also said EU membership allows disabled people to defend their rights through the European Courts:
“For the disabled woman who sued her local authority for cutting her care package, protection against ‘cruel and degrading treatment’ is an important defence of decent public services in the current climate of austerity.”
He added: “The lesson to the EU ‘leave’ campaign is that independence and inter-dependence can go together, for people and for nations.”