Being Disabled in Britain: A Journey Less Equal
‘Being Disabled in Britain 2016: A Journey Less Equal’ is a recent report written by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which makes the case that disabled people in Britain today are not leading their lives in the same way as non-disabled people in the same country and era. Disabled people may face many or certain obstacles and difficulties in their lives and may experience discrimination and even abuse in ways that non-disabled people may not. The report assesses the state of equality and human rights for disabled people in Britain and sets out the key areas requiring improvement. Progress has been made in some areas but disabled people are facing more barriers and falling further behind. The United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have all highlighted the disparities that exist for disabled children and adults across all areas of life.
According to the report, millions of disabled people in Britain are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the everyday rights non-disabled people take for granted, such as being able to access transport, appropriate health services and housing, or benefit from education and employment. The disability pay gap continues and is widening, access to justice has deteriorated and welfare reforms have significantly affected the already low living standards of disabled people. The article argues that it is crucial that as a society we recognize and tackle these structural problems urgently and comprehensively and advocates that there should be a new national focus on disability rights, so that disabled people are no longer treated as ‘second-class citizens’.
This article is based on this report. The report sets out evidence-based findings in six key areas of life: education, work, standard of living, health and care, justice and detention and participation and identity. It also includes recommendations for action. This article will cover the former stated areas which the report has focused on too, such as education, as well as including the recommendations of the report.
Disabled pupils in England, Wales and Scotland have much lower attainment rates at school than non-disabled pupils, and are significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded. Furthermore, there is a need to address bullying experienced by disabled children and the levels of support they are offered.
Although the qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people narrowed between 2010/2011 and 2015/16, the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people in 2015/16, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower than that of non-disabled people.
Disabled people across Britain are less likely to be in employment than non-disabled people. It was also noted in the report that the disability pay gap continues to widen. Very low numbers of disabled people are taking up apprenticeships, and there has been little improvement in that situation in England and Wales, although Scotland has seen a slight improvement.
Standard of living
More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived. Social security reforms have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. It was mentioned in the report that a higher proportion of disabled people have been affected by the under-occupancy charge than non-disabled people, as evidenced in the Department for Work and Pension’s Equality Impact Assessment. Disabled people face problems in finding adequate housing and this is a major barrier to independent living. The report acknowledges that as resources become scarcer, and funding for specialist services for disabled people disappears, disabled people are finding it more and more difficult to access support.
Health and care
Disabled people are more likely to experience health inequalities and major health conditions, and are likely to die younger than other people. Accessibility of services is problematic, and disabled people are less likely to report positive experiences in accessing healthcare services. The report asserts that despite a commitment by governments to make improvements to the provision of mental health services, considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries (England, Scotland and Wales), where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
Justice and detention
There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners that died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health need.
Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales and this is a strong concern, particularly as evidence suggests there are flaws in the way those detained are assessed and treated.
The report states disability hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales increased by 44% in 2015/16 on the previous year, possibly reflecting improved reporting and recording practices. Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice in family law, housing, employment, debt and welfare benefit cases.
Participation and identity
Disabled people continue to encounter barriers to exercising their right to vote. Disabled people are also under-represented in political office and public appointments, and face continued challenges to achieving equal representation. The report emphasizes that negative attitudes towards disabled people remain prominent in Britain, and people with a mental health condition, learning disability or memory impairment remain particularly likely to be stigmatized.
The first recommendation is to reduce educational attainment and employment gaps for disabled people. The second is to ensure that essential services, such as housing, health, transport and justice, meet the particular needs of disabled people and support their independence and wellbeing. The third is to promote the inclusion and participation of disabled people in civic and political life.
The fourth recommendation is to strengthen disabled people’s choice, autonomy and control over decisions and services. The fifth is to improve existing legislation, policies, frameworks and action plans to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people. The sixth recommendation is to improve the evidence base on the experiences and outcomes of disabled people and the ability to assess how fair Britain is for all disabled people.