UK still leaves the disabled behind, says equality watchdog

Written By: Ian Hernon
Published: April 21, 2017 Last modified: April 21, 2017

Progress towards real equality for disabled people over the past 20 years is insufficient and “littered with missed opportunities and failures,” according to the chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

David Isaac’s comment follows the publication of Being Disabled in Britain: a journey less equal, a comprehensive analysis on how the rights of disabled people are protected in the UK.

The report, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement. Despite significant progress in the laws protecting disabled people’s rights, they are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the opportunities and outcomes non-disabled people take for granted.

The disabled suffer through: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and the welfare reforms that significantly affect the already low living standards of disabled people.

The report’s key findings included the fact that more disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015-16 compared to 2010-11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010-11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with “mental health conditions” and those with “physical disabilities” the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed.

The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women have the lowest median hourly earnings of all. More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived, and social security “reforms” have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people.

UK families with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families; 8.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people.

Disabled people over the age of 65 are twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty; disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased.

Disabled people in Britain are also less likely to own their own home; and the qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower.

Isaacs said: “While at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next 20 years to be a repeat of the past.”

The report called for a new national focus on the rights of the 13 million disabled people who live in Britain so they have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens. These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services, such as housing, health and transport, meet the needs of disabled people; and improving existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

About Ian Hernon

Ian Hernon is Deputy Editor of Tribune