This column appeared in the Friday 4th December 2020 edition of the South London Press.
As South London Press readers may remember, I became Shadow Minister for Disabled People in April. November 18th marked the beginning of Disability History Month and I’ve been taking the opportunity to review what progress has been made so far in disabled people’s fight for equality.
First, the good bit. We have, without a doubt, made significant strides over the last few decades. The Disability Discrimination Act (1995) (DDA), which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, was a landmark piece of legislation. After many years of trying, we finally had a law which acknowledged society’s failings and made it clear that it was society that needed to adapt.
However, the DDA and the Equality Act (2010) that followed were not perfect and the phasing in of the legislation took far too long. As we look towards next year, I am thinking about the work that lies ahead. Covid-19 has only served to highlight the gaping inequalities that still exist in our society.
From the start of this pandemic, disabled people have been an afterthought. Government communications have not been fully accessible and many disabled people have struggled to access food, medicines and PPE equipment.
New research published by Scope has found that the disability employment gap stands at a shocking 29.2% nationwide. Another report by Citizens Advice found that 27% of disabled people are facing redundancy, and that figure rises to 37% for those people whose disability has a substantial impact on their activities.
Now is the time for bold ideas to ensure disabled people do not bear the brunt of the crisis. One of the few positives to come out of it has been the vast improvements in technology enabling people to work from home. We must not lose the momentum we have gained, but instead expand the offer available under reasonable adjustments and Access to Work, so people are not waiting months to access these schemes.
A decade of austerity has also undone some of the most crucial elements of this fight. A UN report from 2016 stated that the UK Government enacted ‘systematic violations’ of the rights of people with disabilities through their welfare reforms in the period 2010 to 2015. The same UN agency later held this Government responsible for a failure to recognise the rights of disabled people to live independently in the community.
The Government is due to publish its National Strategy for Disabled People next year and it must not ignore these recommendations. Any national strategy must be forward-thinking and ensure that every Whitehall department delivers on the principle that every disabled person can live a fully independent life.
Most importantly, we must listen to and work with disabled people – our experts by experience – as we continue to push for true equality.