17 Nov 2023
Reflecting on Disability Rights in the UK
Written by Jo Gower, Lead Trainer
The last few years has, unfortunately, seen the crisis facing UK Deaf and disabled people significantly worsening. From statistics showing that 60% of COVID-19 deaths were those of disabled people, to the unlawful lack of BSL interpreters at key COVID announcements, to disabled people being pressured to accept ‘Do Not Resuscitate” orders as their lives were deemed less worthy of saving, the pandemic has had an overwhelmingly negative impact on disabled people’s lives. More than this, the refusal of the government and general public to acknowledge that the pandemic is still ongoing has led to worsened social isolation and abandonment of the high-risk people who still remain alive.
Since the 2016 report by the UN on the UK’s “systemic violations” of disabled people’s rights, we have seen little to no progress. The EHRC have stated in a UN report in November 2023 that disabled people continued to be at disproportionately high risk of poverty, low income and having poor public services, and were still likely to suffer from public prejudice and media stereotyping. The UK government has swept this under the carpet, refusing to attend a UN review of its treatment of disabled people after an inquiry warned of "grave" violations of our rights in August of 2023.
The harmful and unsubstantiated media rhetoric around disability and benefits claimants has continued, despite reports showing that Personal Independence Payment Assessments are “broken” and has “meant a decade of stress, indignity, and humiliation” for disabled people, with 65% of claimants saying that the PIP process has a negative impact on their physical and mental health (MS Society, 2023). The UK Government’s plans to intensify and expand the benefits sanctions regime and remove the current provisions for disabled people who are out of work means that around 632,000 disabled people are at risk of losing essential income, adding to an already catastrophic cost of living crisis for disabled people. 75% of food bank users say that they or a member of their household is disabled (Trussell Trust, 2023), with disabled workers being twice as likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. Adding to this, the pay gap for disabled workers continues to rise to 14.6%, with disabled women facing an even higher pay gap of 30% (TUC, November 2023). All of these facts cumulate in the huge rise in destitution among disabled people, with 62% destitute individuals in the UK stating that their day-to-day activities are limited due to disability (JRF, 2023).
So, what can we do to support disability rights within the UK?
A key solution is to amplify the voices of disabled people – we are not voiceless, we are speaking, we’re just not being heard. Share our stories on social media, share links to petitions and public consultations (and fill them out yourself!), and highlight the intersection between disability and different identities on occasions such as LGBT+ History Month, Black History Month, and awareness days. Educate yourself using resources such as Disability Rights UK for insight into disabled experiences, lobby your MPs for greater consideration of disability rights, join us at protests, and petition your workplace to commit to pay equality for disabled staff, including those on part-time contracts.
We also need to think about the impact we as individuals have on the lives of disabled people – wear your mask in enclosed spaces, test for COVID regularly, and take COVID precautions seriously. This is a form of solidarity, of building community, and a practical way we can support those among us who are high-risk of complications, long-COVID, and death if they get sick.
Remember the disability rights slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us”. So often disabled people are spoken over or ignored, or the activism that takes place in our name is patronising and paternalistic rather than centred on what we actually want and need. Have us lead discussions about things that affect us, platform us, and respect us as experts on our own experiences.
We must realise that the struggle for human rights in the UK, including the rights of disabled people, is a topic that impacts upon all of us. As the government seeks to extricate itself from international human rights treaties and conventions, disabled people are simply the thin end of the wedge – it will not stop here. It is assumed that actions targeting disabled people will slide under the radar, and that the assault on our human rights can then expand to include more and more of us. Don’t let this happen. Draw a line here, stand your ground, and fight for what is right.