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Being Disabled in Britain: A journey less equal, by the Equality and Human Rights Commission

April 19, 2017

Disabled people in Britain are being left behind and there are widening gaps in their education, work, housing, health, and poverty levels.

The reportconcluded that disabled people were still being treated like second-class citizens, and that, in many aspects of life, opportunities for disabled people in Britain have gone backwards over the past 20 years.

David Isaac, who chairs the commission, said: “It is a badge of shame on our society and successive governments that this has happened.”

The report found that more dis­abled people were in poverty than non-disabled. Food poverty affected 18.4 per cent of disabled people aged 16-64, compared with 7.5 per cent of non-disabled people.

A third of families where one member is disabled are living in deprived households. Disabled people are also less likely to be in employment, and less likely to get support into work from the Government

At school, disabled pupils have lower attainment rates than their non-disabled peers, and are more likely to be excluded from school. They are more likely to die younger and experience health inequalities, and the report gives examples of the putting of “Do not resuscitate” notices on disabled patients’ notes without their knowledge or consent.

“Negative attitudes toward dis­abled people remain prominent in Britain, and people with a mental-health condition, learning disability, or memory impairment remain particularly likely to be stigmatised,” the report says.

Mr Isaac called for an urgent “national focus” on the rights of Britain’s 13 million disabled people. “They must not be treated any less favourably than any other citizens, Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed. To achieve this, we must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society.”

The Christian disability charity Livability said that the report was a “call to action” to society and the Church.

The head of communications and campaigns at Livability, Janet Miles, said: “It is indeed a ‘badge of shame’ on our society that millions of disabled people are still not being treated as equal citizens. From Livability’s work on the front line, we see first-hand how so many disabled people are struggling with disabling barriers every day. Whether it’s loss of benefits, poor accessibility, lack of vocation and employment prospects, or lack of support — the pressure points are numerous.

“As a charity, Livability is par­ticularly concerned at how the barriers to disabled people’s participation and inclusion can have a detrimental impact on their health and life outcomes. That’s why our charity’s work is getting increasingly focused on tackling social isolation amongst disabled people.

“Every day, through Livability’s disability services, and church and community work, we are working to create more joined-up opportunities for the people we support to particip­ate in community life. We know that, when people are more connected, their health and well-being does so much better.

“As a charity with a broad Chris­tian ethos, we see the role of local churches and other faith groups as . being key in working forhis change and inclusion. Often at Ole,- heart of their locality, they have On essential part to play in tackling injustices, and providing practical ways to overcome disabling barriers in their communities.”


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.

On average, men with mental health conditions die 20 years earlier than the general population, and women 13 years earlier.

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.

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. There is an urgent need for the implementation of section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, so that political parties are required to publish diversity data about their candidates.

Poor access to transport, leisure and other services can affect the community and social life of disabled people, creating a barrier to independence and their enjoyment of day-to-day activities. Across Great Britain, there was an overall increase between 2009-11 and 2012-14 in the percentage of disabled and non-disabled adults who reported having difficulty accessing services in the areas of health, benefits, tax, culture, sport and leisure. In 2012-14 this was 45.3% for disabled people compared with 31.7% for non-disabled people.

We recommend that the UK and devolved governments take concerted action to:

Reduce educational attainment and employment gaps for disabled people.

Ensure that essential services, such as housing, health, transport and justice, meet the particular needs of disabled people and support their independence and wellbeing.

Promote the inclusion and participation of disabled people in civic and political life.

Strengthen disabled people’s choice, autonomy and control over decisions and services.

Improve existing legislation, policies, frameworks and action plans to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

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.

Between 2010/11 and 2015/16, there was an increase in the proportion of both disabled and non-disabled adults in employment. Despite this, the proportion of disabled adults in employment remained lower (47.6%) compared with that of non-disabled people (79.2%) in 2015/16, and the gap between these groups had widened since 2010/11.

The UK unemployment rate for disabled people with a severe mental health condition is four times that of people with no condition, and the rate for more common mental health conditions is double that of people with no condition.

However, having a degree-level qualification can significantly improve employment outcomes. In 2009/10, 60% of disabled graduates were in employment six months after graduating, compared with 65% of non-disabled graduates.

A Joseph Rowntree Foundation report looking specifically at disability and poverty in later life stressed the additional living costs that people face and considered alternative ways of targeting support. It found that targeting does not necessarily require an extension of means-testing and the current system falls short of full support for the most severely disabled.

Employment and Support Allowance is for disabled people or those with a health condition who are unable to work, and is designed to cover day-to-day living costs. A person must undergo a Work Capability Assessment to determine whether they have a limited capacity for work and if they are capable of ‘work-related activity’.

A number of issues related to Employment and Support Allowance are of concern, notably: the Work Capability Assessment; the abolition of the Work-Related Activity Component; Employment and Support Allowance conditionality and sanctions; and the impact on disabled people once Employment and Support Allowance has ended.

Changes have been made to the Work Capability Assessment following internal and independent reviews, but it still attracts strong criticism.

Claimants with serious health conditions or disabilities have been found ‘fit for work’. While there has been a relatively high success rate for appeals against decisions, there are concerns that the impact of assessments, reassessments and poor decisions has had a negative effect on the physical and mental health of claimants (Kennedy et al., 2016, p.7). The assessment method has also been successfully challenged in the courts on the grounds that it puts those with mental health conditions at a disadvantage.

The time limit for receipt of contributory Employment and Support Allowance, which is now 12 months, is highly controversial as it undermines the contributory principle and, it has been argued by disability and welfare rights organisations, will increase poverty for those with long-term conditions.

many claimants who had been affected by the removal of the ‘spare room subsidy’ were unable to move because of a shortage of smaller homes. Respondents emphasised that moving to a smaller property was not just a matter of insufficient numbers of properties, and that for disabled people the availability of suitable smaller homes was even further limited. Disabled claimants were concerned that local authorities would be unable to find a suitable property for them that was adapted to their needs, and that, if they did move into something that was unsuitable, they would have to wait a long time for the authority to install the adaptations needed


A report focusing on Disabled Facilities Grants[1] found that in 2014:

62% of councils across England and Wales failed to fund agreed adaptations within the one-year deadline.

44% of councils had people waiting over two years for a grant, with eight councils reporting waits of over four years.

Over 2,500 disabled people each year wait over 12 months for adaptations to make their homes accessible.

Only 24% of people with depression and anxiety disorders had received any form of treatment, only 8% of patients with depression had seen a psychiatrist and only 3% of patients with depression had seen a psychologist.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 includes the principle that mental health must be given equal priority to physical health in England. The concept of ‘parity of esteem’ has been actively promoted since then. The better integration of mental health and physical healthcare is consequently seen by the UK Government as a policy priority. In 2014, the Department of Health and NHS England acknowledged a treatment gap, with most people with mental health conditions receiving no treatment, and severe funding restrictions on mental health services compared with physical health services

Children with a mental health condition are often treated far away from home, do not receive adequate child-specific attention and support, and are placed in adult facilities, or may even be detained in police custody owing to a shortage of places in mental health clinics.

Despite widespread support for the principles underpinning individual registration, the Individual Electoral Registration has generated concern about the potential drop in registration levels for disabled people. For example, disabled people living in residential care settings are among those groups at a greater risk of falling off the register

Other barriers to voting were highlighted by Papworth Trust disability charity, which suggested that local authorities aim to increase disabled access by piloting different options, such as making polling stations more accessible, online voting and continuing work by organisations such as Mencap to promote voter registration.

Evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee on the disability provisions of the Equality Act 2010 noted the principal obstacles of disabled people who want to stand for election: the extra cost they may incur compared with non-disabled people; and being an MP is a full-time job, which may be difficult for some disabled people

In the UK all buses must be accessible by January 2017, and coaches and trains by January 2020. The main legislation that applies to disabled passengers or people with reduced mobility using public transport is now consolidated in the Equality Act 2010, but much of the law as it relates to their treatment and the services they can expect derives from various EU legislative instruments.

Access to transport is an important part of independent living and participation in family and community. Transport options for disabled people are very limited because of the need to use only transport forms that are accessible, and these tend to be expensive. Disabled people report feeling ‘trapped’ by these high costs and limited options. Cuts to concessionary fares and local transport services have left some disabled people isolated. A study looking at the impact of rail accessibility improvements found that 33% of wheelchair-users, 19% of passengers with a hearing impairment and 15% of passengers with a mobility impairment reported making increased trips following the improvements.

Passenger Assist is a free service provided by train companies to assist disabled passengers and older people with any part of their train journey. In its 2014 review of this service, the independent transport user watchdog, Transport Focus, found that despite current good practice there are areas where the industry might usefully focus attention on improvements. These include a more consistent delivery of assistance and improved communication and staff training

There is concern that cuts to bus routes across Britain have a detrimental impact on disabled people.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that bus companies must end ‘first come, first served’ policies, and do more to give priority to wheelchair-users. This means that wheelchair-users should be given priority for wheelchair spaces on buses, and bus companies should have clear policies in place and give training to drivers to remove the barriers wheelchair-users face when using buses

There is no national requirement to make a proportion of taxi or private hire vehicle fleets accessible. This is deferred to individual local licensing authorities and individual councils can require all or a proportion of vehicles licensed by that authority to be accessible

Almost two in three wheelchair-users report being charged more due to being a wheelchair-user

Only 33% of respondents said that they would feel comfortable talking to a disabled person and many worried that they might say the wrong thing or patronise the person.

The report is online here

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