Disability rights under attack: Rights ‘have regressed’ in last five years, says watchdog


Disabled people’s rights have gone backwards over the last five years, according to a major review of equality and human rights in Britain.

Following its five-yearly review of progress on social justice, the equality watchdog called on the government to pay “urgent attention” to areas where disabled people’s rights have regressed.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said too many disabled people were being “locked out” of mainstream society due to poverty and isolation, and were struggling to secure the support needed to live independently.

Is Britain Fairer?, published today (Friday), concludes that it is still harder for disabled people to pass through the “gateways to opportunity”, five years on from the watchdog’s last review, with many still prevented from enjoying “full participation in society” because of barriers to housing, transport, leisure facilities, education and the workplace.

Colin Douglas, programme director for Is Britain Fairer?, told Disability News Service that overall there had been “more areas of backward movement or insufficient forward movement” for disabled people during the recession than those where there had been progress in their rights.

And he said there were “more areas where the gap has widened” between disabled and non-disabled people during the recession than where it had narrowed.

Five years ago, the EHRC’s chair, Trevor Phillips, described the watchdog’s first review as a “wake-up call to Britain” and warned that many disabled people and members of other groups were still imprisoned by “prejudice, inertia and unfairness”.

Douglas said: “I think we should certainly be concerned about where we are now compared to where we were then.

“We do think those are areas of concern and we would encourage those with responsibilities to look at those areas and identify what is going on and why these gaps are widening and where steps are needed to address this.

“We hope the report will help the government to focus on some of those areas where urgent attention is now required.”

The new review does not offer fresh research but draws on evidence collected by other public bodies, charities and parliamentary committees, particularly examining changes between 2008 and 2013.

Douglas said he was sure that the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities would look at the new report, as part of its inquiry into “grave and systematic violations” by the UK of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This week’s report highlights a “significant increase” in levels of material deprivation for working-age disabled people – which measures how poor people think they are – from an average score of 1.4 in 2007-08 to 1.7 in 2012-13, while the gap between the average deprivation scores of disabled and non-disabled people widened.

Although disabled people’s relative poverty decreased during the five years – which would be expected during a recession – Douglas said it was reasonable to say that disabled people had become worse off over those five years.

He said: “People are reporting that they are not able to afford as much as they used to be able to.

“When it comes to material deprivation, disabled people have taken a greater hit than non-disabled people.”

The report also warns that many disabled people are “struggling to get the support needed to live independently”.

And it says that disabled people in England are paid 90 pence per hour less than non-disabled people, and in Scotland up to £1.20 per hour less, according to 2013 figures.

Funding cuts to public and community transport are increasing social exclusion, “leaving more people unable to leave their homes and isolated from their families and friends”, with local authorities cutting, altering or withdrawing 2,000 bus routes in England and 179 in Wales since 2009.

The review also says that, in England, the proportion of disabled people who reported having bad or very bad health increased between 2008 and 2012, whereas there was a reduction for non-disabled people.

And while the performance of children with special education needs (SEN) in England and Wales improved, the gap between those children and those without SEN increased.

The review also says that, at a time when the number of race-motivated hate crimes is falling, the number of hate crimes motivated by disability, religion and transgender identity is increasing.

Evidence suggests that the London 2012 Paralympic Games failed to improve attitudes towards disabled people and that “many continued to experience both unconscious bias and open hostility”, says the report.

Douglas added: “We hope this report will influence government decisions about its policy priorities and decisions.

“Our hope is absolutely that this will be an influential report to help the government make real the commitment that the prime minister made [at this month’s Conservative party conference]about addressing multiple areas of ingrained inequality.”

The commission has also launched a public consultation on its strategic plan for 2016-2019, which sets out its key objectives for the next three years, partly in response to Is Britain Fairer?, and “how it will contribute to tackling discrimination, improving equality of opportunity and promoting human rights”.

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