Last week Dimensions co-hosted a hustings event for disabled people in London, ahead of the London mayoral election. Sadiq Khan and Zak Goldsmith were both there – a good start – and by the end I think both felt well and truly grilled.
But important as it is, the London Mayoral election is being overshadowed by the EU Referendum. I was too young to vote last time round, so this is easily the most important election I’ll have participated in.
You can’t vote if you’re not registered so if you’re not you can spend less than 5 minutes doing so at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
This referendum has split the main political parties, and even some nominally on the same side can’t seem to agree to work together.
There has been an awful lot of ‘noise’ recently about what charities and other not-for-profits can and can’t say on key issues facing the country. Dimensions’ non-political rules require us to adopt a neutral organisational position.
However, this is a vitally important issue that will affect the lives of people with disabilities for generations to come. Therefore we will seek to prompt people with disabilities to engage and inform themselves ahead of voting.
At time of writing, the key issues seem to be sovereignty and economy, and the polling is neck and neck.
But little has yet been written about the impact of Stay or Leave on vulnerable people: on welfare, on social justice, on social care. So I’ve written this blog with the aim of provoking some questions that the 10m disabled people in the UK, and those around them, might want to consider.
Let’s start the discussion at #EURefDisability.
Will outcomes and quality of life improve or get worse under Brexit?
Healthier public finances potentially lead to less pressure on welfare. The state of public finances is one of the key questions in the whole debate and I don’t think anyone has yet put forward a definitive view about what will happen to them in the event of staying or leaving.
The nub then, is how likely is an economic downturn and of course, the two sides hold opposing views.
Would companies scramble to relocate production outside the UK? Would barriers to trade be erected? Might the claimed “ten years of uncertainty” itself result in a downturn? With the adult social care sector valued at £43bn, a downturn would certainly force yet more cost cutting measures on our sector – notwithstanding the latest forecast £4bn funding gap.
Funding for public services has been cut dramatically in the last few years and I don’t think we could withstand even further cuts if we suffer a significant economic downturn.
So a key question to keep asking the Stayers and the Leavers is to justify their opinions as to whether staying or leaving is more or less likely to lead to an economic downturn.
Only one thing is certain: whatever the referendum result, the losers will claim that things are getting worse and the winners will claim otherwise.
Will Brexit affect social justice?
Let’s highlight one point that frequently gets lost in the debate.
Exiting the EU would not automatically lead to exiting the European Convention of Human Rights. They are separate things. A requirement for membership of the EU is participation in the ECHR but not vice versa.
Individuals with disabilities who have had recourse to Europe to challenge British legislative and judicial decisions (think bedroom tax) would still have this power. For now.
Leaving the EU would then give future governments the choice as to whether we should seek to withdraw from the ECHR in future. So for disabled people continuing membership of the EU can be seen as a safeguard against this possibility.
If we were to exit the ECHR, might this undermine the formalised human rights of all UK citizens – especially worrying for society’s most vulnerable?
So a question to ask the Stayers and Leavers could be about their level of commitment to the ECHR.
The EU has certainly led the way in supporting anti-discrimination legislation, and on occasion has taken countries to court for failure to implement it.
Italy, for example, fell foul of the European Union’s Court of justice in 2013, for failing to require employers to adopt practical and effective measures for disabled people.
EU legislation for disabled people covers a huge range of sectors, from accessible buses to braille on medicine, and a House of Lords select committee investigation reported last month that Britain was failing to uphold EU legislation in many areas.
Is the UK disability voice now loud enough to compel government to enact the same level of anti-discrimination legislation we currently enjoy via the EU?
So a question for the Stayers and leavers – would these legal safeguards and standards be constituted into UK law?
There continues to be EU action to improve standards – the proposed General Accessibility regulations, for example. If we vote to leave these would not apply to disabled people in the UK, unless the UK government chooses to copy them.
So a question for the Stayers and the Leavers could be about future intentions to improve the lives of people with a disability.
What will be the effect of Brexit on the social care workforce?
Last month the Migration Advisory Committee reluctantly recommended retaining nurses on the “Shortage Occupations List” – making it easy for non-European nurses to migrate to Britain, and easier for the NHS to fill nursing vacancies.
Despite 1 in 10 (2.8m) jobs being in adult social care –there is no suggestion that a similar approach could be taken to cover shortages in our sector.
Periods of high employment tend to be difficult times for social care providers and recipients, as it becomes hard to find and recruit good support staff.
Conversely, periods of high unemployment make it easier to get the sort of staff we all want. The imposition of immigration controls on EU citizens could prevent skilled immigrants from taking these jobs. Could an unintended consequence be additional pressure on the social care system?
So a question for the Stayers and the Leavers could be about future intentions to add support work to the Shortage Occupations List.
Where can I find out more?
In my own conversations, I find that the more progress that people with disabilities have made on being part of public life and communities, the more they are simply interested in the same issues as everyone else. It is those that cannot speak up or who find themselves powerless that are most vulnerable.
It is difficult to find a balanced, calm, rational commentary on the arguments for and against Brexit, and harder still to find anyone commenting on the implications for disabled people.
Hopefully this blog will provoke some informed debate. Of course, in this piece I have only considered disability issues. In making your own mind up, you will want to consider other matters – sovereignty, history, Britain’s place in the world. Whatever your view, please share it at #EURefDisability.
You can find the views of the official Stay and Leave campaigns here:
Interestingly there are as yet no easy read versions – so let’s hope they are working on them.