Watchdog marks UN day by announcing assault on ‘virus of social isolation’


The equality watchdog has marked the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) by announcing national summits in England, Wales and Scotland to address the “virus of social isolation” faced by growing numbers of disabled and older people.

In a speech at Westminster, Lord [Chris] Holmes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability commissioner, said more must be done to help those who were unable to participate in society and the economy.

His speech was one of many events and publications organised to mark IDPD in the UK, including a passionate call to reverse government cuts to social care; two new guides on addressing disability discrimination in the workplace; and a public performance featuring a group of disabled people dressed as sheep.

Lord Holmes was speaking four weeks after a major review of equality and human rights in Britain by the commission, Is Britain Fairer?, found that disabled people’s rights had gone backwards over the last five years.

The review found that 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, and called on the government to pay “urgent attention” to areas where disabled people’s rights have regressed.

In his speech this week, Lord Holmes, a Tory peer, focused not on cuts to social care but on disabled people’s problems in accessing the internet and new technology; cuts to bus routes; and disabled people’s under-representation in public life.

He said: “Government, business, service-providers and civil society all need to join together and play their part.

“That is why we will be organising a series of summits early in the new year to bring together leaders from across these areas of our national life.”

The theme of this year’s IDPD was based on inclusion, access and empowerment.

In Norfolk, the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives highlighted the impact of cuts to social care with an interview recorded with a social care-user, Martin Symons (pictured), whose care budget has been slashed.

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said: “The theme of the international day is access, empowerment and that nobody should be left behind. 

“We have chosen to highlight Martin’s case as his access to social care is being rationed based on diminishing budgets, not his health and social care need. 

“His personal budget empowered him to live an independent life but now most of that has been taken away from him. 

“The government cuts to social care mean that many people facing disabling barriers are being left behind.”

Elsewhere on IDPD, the independent employment advice service Acas published a guide aimed at helping employers and managers “identify, tackle and prevent” disability discrimination in the workplace.

The TUC also published a guide, You Don’t Look Disabled, which explains how trade unions can support members with invisible impairments.

In Coventry, the city council launched a new partnership with the mobile phone app assist-Mi, which should allow disabled people to use their smartphones to request access assistance in advance of visits to Coventry venues.

It is the first time the assist-Mi application has been used in a city-wide pilot.

The English Federation of Disability Sport marked IDPD by launching the first of a new series of films, Me, being active, which will illustrate the benefits of leading an active life, and are supported by Disability Rights UK and Sport England.

In Stratford town centre, east London, a group of local disabled artists dressed as sheep for a comic piece of interactive street theatre, as part of the Together! 2015 Festival and UK Disability History Month.

Ju Gosling, artistic director of Together!, said before the performance: “Disabled people come from all backgrounds and everyone experiences impairment differently, but all too often disabled people are portrayed as being no different from each other than a herd of sheep.

“At the same time, there is a tendency to follow unthinkingly when stereotypes are created.”

And organisers of Disabled Access Day – which encourages disabled people to visit somewhere new in order to highlight venues with good accessibility, and draw attention to those that need to improve their access provision – began counting down 100 days until their own event takes place on 12 March 2016.