Monday 3 December 2012

Who represents disabled folk?

I recently had a twitter discussion (q.v. if so wished; I am @criquaer) with the erudite Neil Crowther (@NeilCrowther, who has his own website which is well worth dipping into and reading) in which we debated the relative merits of the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Now I am not particularly learnèd in the area of the EHRC but I have had several interactions with them, none of which ended fully positively.

I started this blog because of concerns about the EHRC, see Disabled Travel and the Equality & Human Rights Commission which gives some slight background. For more detailed information refer to Wikipedia.

"We have a statutory remit to promote and monitor human rights; and to protect, enforce and promote equality across the nine "protected" grounds - [including] disability..." EHRC

Now I am just a layman, but that suggests to me that any area of life where disabled folk do not have equality is up for grabs and ought to be an area of concern for the EHRC.

According to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI), a part of the Government structure:

Post-19 Education
  • Disabled people are around twice as likely not to hold any qualifications compared to non-disabled people, and around half as likely to hold a degree-level qualification [7]
  • 20 per cent of working age disabled people do not hold any formal qualification, compared to seven per cent of working age non-disabled people [8]
  • 14.5 per cent of working age disabled people hold degree-level qualifications compared to 26.8 per cent of working age non-disabled people [9]


  • According to the Labour Force Survey, disabled people are now more likely to be employed than they were in 2002  - the employment rate gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed slightly by 5.8 percentage points and currently stands at 29.9% in 2012
  • However, disabled people remain far less likely to be in employment. In 2012 46.3 per cent of disabled people are in employment compared to 76.2  per cent of non-disabled people

From these statistics it can be seen that disabled folk do not have parity in educational and employment outcomes. Given the huge differences this can only be put down to discrimination and/or lack of equality of opportunity. These problems have been known about for more than a decade. Here one can find the link to the EHRC's statement on how they are addressing the various conventions within the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Perhaps the EHRC are actually doing something proactive. Have the general public heard about any such actions? To be fair are the ODI doing anything? Anyone, other than specialists and consultants, heard about their work? Is the UN doing anything?

The European Commission has a European Disability Strategy which advises that:

The strategy's targets for the first five years include:
  • devising policies for inclusive, high-quality education
  • ensuring the European Platform Against Poverty includes a special focus on people with disabilities. The forum brings together experts who share best practices and experience
  • working towards the recognition of disability cards throughout the EU to ensure equal treatment when working, living or travelling in the bloc
  • developing accessibility standards for voting premises and campaign material
  • taking the rights of people with disabilities into account in external development programmes and for EU candidate countries.

Disabled folk are dying "with recent evidence of 73 deaths and suicides per week" in relation to Work Capability Assessments (WCA) per Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC). What action have the EHRC, ODI, EU or UN taken? And if they are doing something, why do we not know about it?

One might argue that disabled folk should not expect governmental bodies to look out for their interests, that really it is up to the individual to do so. Of course, many disabled folk are just not able to do so. This is where charities are supposed to step in. Well one of the ODI's favourites and 'privileged' charity is Disability Rights UK (DRUK). Amongst the disabled community they are infamous because of their chief executive's Sayce Report and have lost much credibility for being seen as the Government's henchman, specifically in relation to Remploy. On 28th November another group of charities became tarnished, Sick and Disabled Claimants Now to Be Sent on Workfare (by the same charities who claim to support them) including:

"Charitable Work Programme sub-contractors include @scope,  @MindCharity, @mencap_charity, @RNIB, @LCDisability, @salvationarmyuk, @AddactionUK

Charities who exploit workfare staff include @thebhf, @barnardos, @age_uk, @CR_UK"

Since then Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation have decided to withdraw from the workfare schemes and Scope are reviewing the matter. This discrediting of charities, who are supposed to be supporting us, has meant a damaging backlash and concomitant fall in trust. See for example the comments after Neil Crowther's article for DRUK To eliminate hostility towards disabled people we must cut the deficit.

My suggestion to Neil Crowther was:

 Or actually seek disabled folks' views (not charities') for our priorities to determine their agenda. 

He responded:

 why do you believe was based on charities views? EHRC had & has a statutory Disability Committee made up of disabled people

 like Jane Campbell, Mike Smith, Alun Davies, Andrew Lee, Rhian Davies, Kirsten Hearn & Saghir Alam

I doubt many of us have heard of these grandees. I myself have only heard of Mike Smith and that is due to correspondence with the EHRC.

Why should not all the organisations in this article seek out the opinions of their users, donors and stakeholders? Why do we little people not get to have a say? There will always be a need for specialists and experts, but that does not mean that we should be told our priorities or have our choices decided for us. Of course, there will always be a need to give some weighting to minorities within our community who otherwise might never get a say, such as BME disabled folk, or LGBTI disabled persons (which includes myself!). But that alone should not be used as an excuse not to have regular listening exercises and consultations.

Who represents we disabled? Who should?

This article is part of "International Day for Persons with Disabilities".

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