On 23 June the UK will vote in a referendum to decide whether to remain in the European Union. There has been an interesting and sometimes heated debate going on for months about whether it would be a good idea to leave or not. Most people are concerned about the impact on immigration, security or the economy if we leave the EU. Not much has been said about the impact on disabled people however.
I don’t know about you, but it seems that nobody knows what is going to happen if we leave the EU. Most of the campaigners on both sides seem to resort to scaremongering or personal attacks in order to try to convince voters. I have no idea whether it will be best to remain or leave the EU.
I tried to weigh up the pros and cons but it’s just too complicated, and it’s hard to know who is telling the truth. Politicians are hardly known for their honesty. They pluck a “fact” out of thin air and use it to backup their arguments.
So I’ve given up trying to work out the bigger picture and instead I’m going to focus on what will affect me the most. As a disabled person I am interested in whether it will be better for disabled people if we remain in the EU.
Disability and the European Union
Today I read a report by the Papworth Trust entitled “The EU Referendum: Disability and the European Union” which explains how the EU has affected disabled people over the years. It highlights how much EU legislation has been produced to protect the rights of disabled people.
The report says that 300 pieces of legislation aimed at improving disabled people’s lives have been passed by the EU, with more in the pipeline. The EU has helped improve the U.K.’s disability discrimination laws and vice versa. For example the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) originally did not apply to businesses with less than 20 employees. So small businesses could still discriminate against disabled people. EU legislation expanded the DDA to include small businesses as well, therefore protecting more disabled people’s rights.
EU directives have been passed that protects disabled people from discrimination in areas such as transportation (trains, flying and driving), employment, health and financial support. For example, airline companies must not deny disabled people booking or boarding air travel. Rail companies must not refuse disabled people permission to board a train. Although changes still need to be made air and rail travel in Europe is improving. The expansion of the Eurostar route is an example.
As a Result of EU Directives the blue badge for disabled parking is now recognised in all European countries which makes it easier for disabled travellers to park. Braille must also now be printed on all packages for medications in EU member states. Disabled workers are protected against discrimination as a result of the Employment Equality framework directive.
Dame Tanni Grey Thompson explains:
“The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 inspired the European Union to latterly adopt EU-wide measures to tackle workplace discrimination against disabled people. In turn, the EU has helped improve our laws, ensuring that it covers all employers irrespective of size and offers protection to those associated with a disabled person, particularly helping Britain’s six million carers.”
Going forward the EU has planned to improve disability legislation further. The European Disability Strategy (2010 – 2020) is an action plan that aims to improve conditions for disabled people in eight key areas.
- Accessibility: make good and services accessible to people with disabilities
- Participation: make sure that disabled people have access to all the benefits of EU membership
- Equality: to combat disability discrimination
- Employment: to increase the number of disabled people in the labour market
- Education and training: to promote lifelong learning opportunities for disabled students
- Social Protection: to promote decent living conditions, combat poverty and social exclusion
- External action: to promote the rights of disabled people in the EU and internationally
Plus the Accessibility Act 2016 is planned which will set out a number of requirements for goods and services to be accessible for disabled people. These include computer hardware and operating systems, self-service terminals, audiovisual media and e-books. If the UK remains in the EU then this directive will be available by the end of 2016.
A Double Lock
So the EU has produced a great number of legislation that has improved accessibility and rights for disabled people, and it continues to do so.
The UK is a lot more accessible than many other European countries and already has the Equality Act which protects disabled people’s rights. However, if we leave the EU these rights are not guaranteed. The EU acts as a double lock on disability rights so prevents any Member state government from scrapping them completely.
Baroness Campbell, a disabled member of the House of Lords said:
“At the moment, our rights are double-locked. If we leave the EU we can kiss goodbye to all the progress we have made on independent living, employment rights and access to information.”
If we leave the EU then the Conservatives will be free to scrap any of our rights that they want. Judging by the fact that they continue to target austerity measures at the most vulnerable people in society it seems that they do not have disabled people’s best interests at heart. There is already talk of scrapping the Human Rights Act, so I doubt they will think twice about scrapping the equality act.
Another thing to consider concerns carers. 6% of people in the care sector are eastern European migrants, which equates to 80,000 people in England. Many migrants come to the UK to work because the pound is stronger than the Euro. If Britain leaves the EU the pound may slump (which it has done following opinion polls favouring Brexit) which means many European carers could leave and go elsewhere.
There is already a shortage of good carers in this country and we do not need to compound the issue by creating economic uncertainty. Leaving the EU will also make it more difficult for migrant carers to work here as they will require a visa.
So I will be voting remain in the referendum. Not because I’m sure that is the best thing to do overall, but I think it is the best thing for disabled people. There are so many reasons on both sides of the debate that it is difficult to know what to do. But in my opinion I think it is better for disabled people if we stay inside the EU.