People with Disabilities: Brexit spells trouble

By James William Jacobs / @jameswjacobs

brexitWhatever our opinion on Brexit, and whatever we think of the leadership in the campaign, every Labour member that I know is fiercely against any diminution of the social and employment protections the European Union gives us.

However, the group that has most to lose from the Article 50 negotiations over the next few years may well be people with disabilities. It’s telling that Iain Duncan Smith, hardly the best friend of the disability community, campaigned under the slogan ‘Vote Leave, Take Control’. One thing I constantly wondered during the campaign was: ‘Take control over what, exactly, IDS?’

Shortly before the referendum, Labour MEP Richard Howitt highlighted what people with disabilities had to lose:

“For the disabled woman who sued her local authority for cutting her care package, protection against “cruel and degrading treatment” [The EU] is an important defence of decent public services in the current climate of austerity.”

And you know, Richard was completely correct. The disability rights that the EU has provided are numerous, and there are new items of Europe-wide legislation that are about to be enacted, but won’t be binding in Britain because we’ll have left the club.

Last year, the European Commission published its proposal for a European Accessibility Act. If enacted (after going through due democratic EU process), it would ensure that manufacturers and suppliers comply with agreed accessibility standards applicable throughout the EU. From Hungary to Portugal, from Malta to Ireland…but not now to Britain.

Why should British disabled people be denied this progressive piece of legislation? Is this the ‘control’ that IDS was on about? UK law does not currently require manufacturers to make goods or products accessible to disabled people. The European Accessibility Act would therefore be a real step in the right direction.

Then there’s the Public Sector Website Accessibility Directive. This proposal would require the public sector providers of key services to ensure that their websites are accessible. In the UK, inaccessible websites continue to exclude and marginalise disabled people, so this Directive would be another positive action to help people with disabilities in accessing services.

These are just two examples. But in the long term, the worry is a slippery slope in policy terms. Without the international co-operation and long-term thinking the European Union provides, people with disabilities may find out that in the long term they are taken advantage of by a government that wanted to find areas to cut in any future round of cuts. And there wouldn’t be any check or balance against going further then they’ve gone already.

In the coming years it must be LABOUR that campaigns for these protections to be enshrined no matter what. Disabled people deserve a party that speaks up for them in the Brexit debate. The presence of a Labour negotiator might indeed help in raising awareness of these issues. After all, I doubt that Boris Johnson, David Davis or Liam Fox would think about them.


Richard Howitt MEP was
completely right to highlight the way people with disabilities will be poorer off post-Brexit. We’re sorry to see him leaving the European Parliament after 22 years in which he’s been a doughty campaigner for people with disabilities.

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