Brexit is not only about a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Disability and Brexit have hardly been discussed together, but after the Brexit transitional period has finished, the rights of over 11 million people are at risk of being regressed.
What are disability rights?
Disability rights are a set of laws and legislation overseen by the European Union that protect and enhance the lives and rights of disabled people. The UK has a progressive history when it comes to disability rights, but extensive work by various EU institutes and funds has further strengthened disability rights in the UK.
Brexit and disability rights
As per the EU Withdrawal act 2018, the UK retains all the current disability rights that it enjoyed has a member of the EU. The Equality Act 2010 will continue unless and until the government amends it. On the face of it, that is a good thing. However, it doesn’t offer much protection from less than compassionate governments hell-bent on division and privatisation.
In theory, if enough Members of Parliament voted accordingly, the government of the day could strip away any or all disability rights with a single act of parliament. That theory can be applied to any UK law or act of parliament; think Theresa May trying to get rid of the non-EU Human Rights act, for reference.
It’s not just about Brexit and disability rights
It is not only the potential loss of some or all disability rights at stake. The UK will no longer benefit from EU research and innovation funds that encourage progress in various fields, including disability. Or the health travel insurance schemes, education exchange programmes and access to appeals at the European Court of Justice.
Attacks on disabled rights
Long before David Cameron called the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, the Tory-led coalition Welfare Reform Act 2012 included policies such as the bedroom tax that indirectly disproportionately affected disabled people.
How Disability Living Allowance was replaced with Personal Independence Payments was seen by many as a direct attack on those with disabilities and long term health problems. The face-to-face assessments was and still is outsourced to two companies by the department of work and pensions. Their own reports found that out of 220,000 PIP application processes rated by the DWP from one company alone, 37% were found to be an ‘unacceptable standard’.
At the very least, various Tory governments have shown contempt for the rights and well being of disabled people in the UK.
If I’ve still got your attention, it’s not all doom and gloom. For every negative that I’ve stated, the opposite is also possible. The UK government might introduce the most radical and liberalising disability legislation ever written.
My feeling, however, is that it’s highly unlikely that the UK will keep up with immediate improvements to EU disability rights, and could even introduce new laws to erode the current ones.
The good news is that disability rights campaigners and organisations are seemingly well organised and ready for the challenges that lay ahead for disability rights and Brexit. The bad news is that the current government has shown little to no interest in protecting disability rights, or even feeding hungry school children. The UK is at risk of becoming a hostile place for people with all forms of disability.