Sally Cowen analyses the latest research on the treatment of disabled people in the UK
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published its new report into the state of equality and human rights for disabled people in the UK on 3 April 2017. The title ‘Being Disabled in Britain: a Journey Less Equal’ rather sums up the whole report, which essentially tells us that whilst some aspects of life for disabled people have improved in the last 20 years, there is still a long way to go and that opportunities have been missed along the way.
The EHRC has produced this report as part of its submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which will provide the outcome of its examination of the UK later this year.
The report relies on new quantitative data showing the position of disabled people in the UK in comparison to the non-disabled in six key areas. These are education, work, standard of living, health and care, justice and detention and participation and identity.
The report sets out its hope that this data will be taken on board by the UK and devolved governments in order that steps can be taken to improve all these areas, as well as being used by disability groups to strengthen their case for change. It is also helpful to lawyers and Claimants as evidence of indirect discrimination and systematic discrimination.
The report particularly highlights that some groups of disabled people have experienced less progress than others, some have even gone backwards. One group in particular are those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities, who appear to face even greater barriers. The statistics make quite alarming and sad reading for all of us who work towards equality for those with disabilities.
The main issues which the new statistics highlight are;
Disabled pupils in all home countries have lower education attainment rates than non-disabled children. In England and Wales attainment was three times lower than non-disabled children in 2014/15. Similarly in higher education where the proportion of disabled people with a degree remains lower than that of non-disabled people. This of course has a knock-on effect on the ability of these people to find work and to receive the highest attainable standard of health.
Whilst there has been some assistance to the disabled to find work by way of the Access to Work and Work Programme schemes since 2010, the number of disabled adults in work remains at only 47.6%, whilst 79% of non-disabled adults are in work. This is a widening of the gap between these groups since 2010/11.
- The gap in pay for the disabled also continues to widen. The median hourly earnings for the disabled was £9.85, compared with £11.41 for the non-disabled.
- Standard of Living
More disabled people in the UK live in poverty, than non-disabled people. 59% of families with children which are in income poverty and live in material deprivation, contained a disabled person, compared with an average material deprivation rate of 36%. This is indicative of a hugely disproportionate impact of social security reforms.
- It is clear from the report that the standard of living of disabled people throughout the UK is falling, due to the lack of funds for local community groups and organisations which are so crucial to keeping many disabled people in touch with others.
- 62% of councils across England and Wales failed to fund agreed adaptations within the one-year deadline for Disabled Facilities Grants. The evidence seems to suggest that these grants are only available to those in greatest need.
- A higher proportion of disabled people are subject to the under-occupancy charge (‘bedroom tax’) than non-disabled people. The lack of accessible housing across Britain threatens the ability of many to live independently. In Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing has decreased.
- Health and Care
The report also highlighted that disabled people are more likely to experience in-equality in healthcare provision. Mental health services also continue to decline. Although target times for access to psychological therapies in England was reduced to 28 days, some people waited up to 90 days. Scotland was not any better, as its health boards have also failed to meet targets. Provision of child and adolescent mental health provision has seen 25% cuts in England between 2011 and 2013, in some areas.
- Justice and Detention
Prisons do not adequately monitor and report on prisoner mental health, despite the fact that prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions than the general population.
- The number of people detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 continues to rise, despite the fact that the assessment and treatment of these people appears to be flawed in many cases.
- Disabled people feel less safe on the streets of the UK than non-disabled people, when walking alone. The police, CPS and Probation service all are found to have difficulty understanding and recognising what can constitute disability hate crime.
- There is a 54% drop in the number of employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination between 2012/3 and 2015/6. This is of course linked to the imposition of fees in Employment Tribunal cases and the impact this has had on access to justice more generally.
- Participation and identity
The number of MPs with disabilities has fallen, whilst the number of disabled people in the House of Lords has risen. To be representative of the population there should be 65 disabled MPs in the House of Commons. The current number is unknown as the system for collecting such data has not been implemented.
- Many disabled people report feeling trapped as they cannot access many forms of public transport and have to resort to more expensive private travel. Buses have to be accessible by January 2017 and trains and coaches by January 2020.
- Where improvements to rail services have been made (Scotland) the number of disabled journeys has increased.
- The landmark case of Paulley v First Group (represented by Robin Allen QC and Catherine Casserley of Cloisters) led the Supreme Court to find that bus companies must end their ‘first come first served’ policies and must do more to train their staff and have clearer policies on helping wheelchair users to have priority.
- Almost two out of three wheelchair users report being made to pay more for their taxi journey. Whilst black taxis are more accessible and some cities such as Edinburgh and London have ensured that all black taxis are wheelchair accessible, mini cabs and private hire vehicles lag a long way behind.
When asked how matters could be improved, disabled respondents’ most common response to the survey said that ‘other people’s attitudes or behaviours’ should improve. This was particularly so, for people with a learning disability.
Physical, emotional and financial abuse of the disabled remains a significant problem and needs to be fully addressed. The number of cases of discrimination in the provision of goods and services is increasing.
This report is a pleasing tool, but a disappointing read. It clearly shows that the lives of disabled people in the UK today are far from equal to non-disabled people. It highlights some of the most stark variations and it must be hoped that by bringing this data into the light, both the government and the courts will take heed of the huge amount of work which still needs to be done to ensure that equality occurs.