A new report has called for greater awareness of the rights enjoyed by disabled people through the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU), as the country moves towards Brexit.
The Implications Of Brexit For Disability Rights looks for ways in which disability organisations can work together to push the government to ensure that disabled people’s rights do not suffer after the UK leaves the EU.
And it describes the “key priorities” for disabled people in a post-Brexit Britain.
The Disability Rights UK (DRUK) report warns that too much of the Brexit debate appears to be about trade tariffs rather than rights, and that disabled people “have too little awareness of their rights and what they can achieve”.
It quotes disability consultant Jonathan Kaye, who has said he fears that unless those EU rights important to disabled people are highlighted during Brexit negotiations, most will “simply be disregarded and seen as being ‘unnecessary red tape’ once the UK formally leaves the EU”.
Kaye says there are “literally thousands of regulations and rules governing the design, functionality and usability of almost every product and object in the home and general environment, indoors and outdoors, which contain elements of disability related consideration”, many of which have taken years of “painstaking and careful lobbying and dialogue”.
The report does not take a position on whether leaving the EU was the right decision, and quotes a Papworth Trust survey which suggested last year that disabled people were slightly more likely to be in favour of leaving the EU (54 per cent) than the overall population who voted in the referendum (52 per cent).
But it paints a clear picture of the potential risks of leaving the EU without paying attention to the impact of Brexit on disabled people’s rights.
Philip Connolly (pictured), policy and development manager at DR UK, said he believed there would be “a lot of unity” among disability organisations and disabled people over the need for these issues to be addressed, whether individuals voted “remain” or to leave the EU, and whoever they voted for at the general election.
Some of the major areas covered by EU action on disability include: access to air, ship, rail and coach travel; employment equality; Braille labelling on medicines; public procurement; funding for EU-level disabled people’s organisations (DPOs); other funding from the European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund; accessibility of public sector websites; and schemes which provide mutual recognition of benefits when disabled people travel to other EU countries, such as with parking badges and health insurance.
Another crucial benefit, provided through freedom of movement across the countries that are part of the European single market, has been the ready supply of committed and professional personal assistants, and care workers.
Other concerns include the post-Brexit rights of disabled people from the UK currently living in other parts of the single market and of disabled people from those countries currently living in the UK.
The report proposes a manifesto of eight points, which includes calling on the government to carry out a full assessment of the impact on disabled people of its future plans for freedom of movement across the EU.
Connolly said that chancellor Philip Hammond had argued for an “open Brexit”, where “certain proportions of migrant labour are allowed into the UK, perhaps to do specific jobs in specific industries, and he’s saying this is in the interests of the British economy.
“Our position is not massively dissimilar to that. We are saying that there are people who are doing a job, meeting the needs of disabled people, in the health service or social care sector, and these people should still be allowed into the UK so that disabled people can get support or live independent lives.
“The chancellor’s call for an ‘open Brexit’ is opening a door that we want to go through as well.”
The manifesto also calls for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to be given greater legal status in the UK.
And it says the government should ensure that EU-based rights, such as regulations on access to air and ship travel and public sector web accessibility, are maintained post-Brexit.
It also wants to see all those disability rights that are already incorporated into UK law remain unchanged, including regulations as well as primary legislation.
Other demands include calling on the government to guarantee that it will match current EU spending on disability rights and DPOs in the UK after Brexit, and for it to pledge a continued commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights.
The manifesto has already secured backing from a number of leading disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) including Action on Disability, Disability Wales, Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living, the National Survivor User Network, Shaping Our Lives, Spectrum, Spinal Injuries Association, York Independent Living Network, Breakthrough UK, Inclusion Scotland, Independent Lives and Real.
The report was written by Professor Anna Lawson, head of the Centre for Disability Studies and the new Disability Law Hub at the University of Leeds, and Liz Sayce, recently retired as chief executive of DR UK.
It was funded by The Legal Education Foundation, and was based largely on views expressed during public events on the impact of Brexit, interviews with DPOs and disabled people, discussions with experts from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and government, and analysis by Professor Lawson.
Connolly said the all party parliamentary group on disability was likely to be addressing the issues raised by the report at a future meeting, which would provide a “very good opportunity” for disabled people to lobby their MP to attend the meeting and hear that “disabled people have a perspective on Brexit”.