October 1, 2019

Improving the lives of disabled people – less talk, more action needed

10 years on from signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) - has the government made any real progress?

The CRPD is an international legal agreement. It exists to protect and promote the human rights of disabled people. The UK signed the treaty in 2009 – making a commitment to promote and protect the rights of disabled people.

How has our Government gone beyond the CRPD?

In 2010 the government introduced legislation, namely the Equality Act, part of which was intended to tackle disability discrimination in the workplace, and in the provision of services to the public.

However, whilst the Act did introduce a greater awareness of disability discrimination and more consistency in addressing it, the legislation did not fundamentally change or improve the lives of disabled people. In many ways it just restated and consolidated the existing law.

In 2013, the government published its “Fulfilling Potential: making it happen for disabled people” strategy, pledging to make the UN Convention “a living reality for disabled people in Britain”. But a response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Disability News Service revealed that in a ministerial briefing prepared in 2016, civil servants accepted that the “Fulfilling Potential brand is not judged positively by some disabled people and their organisations”. And the last progress report on the 2013 strategy was as long ago as November 2015.

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities periodically checks how the UK and other countries are doing with their work to improve the lives of disabled people. The last time they checked on progress was 2017. The group’s report found many things that the UK should do to make life better for disabled people, setting out numerous concerns and recommendations to the UK. The group required an update on progress within 12 months.

How is the UK performing now?

In 2018, a report was prepared by the UK Independent Mechanism, and published by the Equality & Human Rights Commission. The report identified some progress in certain areas, such as:

  • an increase in the number of disabled people in employment and a slight decrease of the disability employment gap;
  • government initiatives to further improve disabled people’s access to employment across the UK;
  • a significant increase of the Access to Work payment cap, to fund adjustments for disabled people in the workplace; and
  • proposed measures to tackle online hate speech, harassment and abuse in the UK.

However, other areas had either shown no progress, or in some cases, concerns have worsened. For example:

  • there has been limited progress on the UK governments’ implementation of the CRPD Committee’s recommendations concerning disabled people’s right to live independently in the community. Appropriate social care packages and accessible housing are two of the cornerstones of independent living. However, there is evidence that social care, particularly adult social care, is at crisis point across the UK and there is a chronic shortage of accessible homes;
  • disabled people are more likely to live in poverty and material deprivation than people who are not disabled, and continue to be affected disproportionately by a range of social security reforms;
  • while the disability employment gap has narrowed slightly since 2015, disabled people are still less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. In the UK, 50.7% of disabled people aged 16–64 were in employment in April to June 2018, compared with 81.1% of non-disabled people.

It’s not just those with disability that struggle, but those around them too

Families also struggle to get the support they need to help disabled children lead a full life. In a survey by the Disabled Children’s Partnership, 3,400 parents revealed the full impact of inadequate and insufficient support services:

  • Only 4% of parent carers say they receive the right support to care for their disabled children safely.
  • A third of parents say their disabled child has suffered unnecessary pain because the right equipment, doctor or health service hasn’t been available
  • More than a third of parents say their disabled child has missed school or college because staff or services aren’t available
  • More than half of parents with disabled children  have been treated by a GP for depression, anxiety or stress
  • More than half (53%) of parents with disabled children have been forced to give up a paid job to care for their disabled child. (At the moment there is an extra ‘you’ on social banner.)
  • 64% of separated parent carers those say a lack of support had a major impact on the breakdown of a relationship.

How individuals are working to improve things

Whilst support and initiative from the government is lacking, individuals are campaigning to improve things for disabled people and succeeding.

For example, Changing Places is a charity which aims to improve toilet and changing facilities for the disabled and their families across the UK, and their campaign has been very successful in getting more toilets installed across the country.

Changing Places however report that progress has been slow because these toilets are still not a mandatory requirement for public spaces and buildings, despite the high need for them. A consultation about making Changing Places toilets a requirement for new or majorly refurbished large buildings used by the public in England was launched on 12 May. The proposals have potential to add Changing Places toilets to more than 150 new buildings a year.

Whilst this is an admirable and important campaign, it only serves to highlight the lack of support from government to improve the lives of those with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

As recently as 25 June 2019, the government (via the former Prime Minister, Theresa May) restated its commitment to tackle barriers faced by disabled people. And in August 2019, Boris Johnson has called for a cross-party approach to solving the funding crisis in social care. Admirable aims, but there is a big difference between words and actions.

10 years on from the Convention being signed, there have been proposals, statements, commitments and strategies. But very little in the way of progress and tangible improvements for disabled people. What the UK does not need, is empty promises in order to leave legacies or win general elections. What we do need, is a real, achievable, joined up strategy that is fully funded and implemented, so that the promises we made back in 2009 (and before) can actually be fulfilled.

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