One fifth of the population has a much tougher time than the rest and it’s been getting worse. We are becoming an isolated and impoverished underclass because the law and decades of Government policy just don’t work. Optimistically, this could simply be due to rather incompetent and poorly coordinated policies that, together, have a disproportionate impact on the weakest in society but others might see it as just cynical targeting of the most vulnerable.
Life is a constant uphill battle for nearly 12 million of us with long-term health conditions and disabilities. And, it’s official according to the report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission
If nearly one in five of us have health conditions or impairments, the chances are high that you come within the disability definition or know someone who does. Here are some of the battles we face:
- You won’t do as well as others at school, are more likely to be excluded and to drop out of education. Not surprisingly: “the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people in 2015/16”.
- Your social and community life is probably limited by transport problems. Alongside, getting health, tax, benefits and other public services has probably become increasingly difficult – not least due to the wide gap in your access to online services compared with other people.
- You are more likely to face health inequalities, face major health conditions and die younger. If you have a mental health condition (whether your “original” disability or as a result of it), life is even more difficult
- You are more likely to have experienced crime and feel unsafe while the criminal justice system still isn’t good at understanding disability hate crime
- If you are in prison, you are more likely to have a mental health condition than the rest of the general population. Health and social care detentions have increased but assessment and treatment is still problematic.
- You are less likely to be in work and Government initiatives such as the Work Programme, Work Choice and Access To Work haven’t made much difference. Even if you do work, you are likely to be earning less. With all of this against you, its not surprisingly you are more likely to be living in poverty and this has been made worse by the combined effects of the much disputed and criticised benefit changes. Other changes in the legal aid system have limited your access to justice, for example, there has been a 54% drop in disability discrimination cases going to employment tribunals.
- Overall, you probably still experience the very obvious negative attitudes towards disabled people throughout Britain and all aspects of our society – and which can be even worse for those with mental health conditions, learning disability or memory impairment.
- And not much of all this is likely to change while your voice isn’t heard: it is more difficult for us to vote and we are few and far between in politics or the key decision making roles in our public institutions.
It seems that life has become more difficult over many years but we aren’t seeing any coordinated action to make it better. What are the politicians, the courts, the Commission and all those others with power and influence doing? I suspect that we can’t rely on morality and conscience to create change. But the financial imperatives are striking: we are probably the most expensive section of the population and the vast majority want to contribute to society and the economy. But it’s going to take a much more robust, cross-Government change of attitudes to make a difference.
And I’m not suggesting that any one political party is offering the solution. We need manifestos that recognise that nearly 20% of voters (and all their families and carers) want big improvements – and solutions that are good for the economy and everyone else too.
Before using your vote, check out each manifesto: do they recognise the full range of problems, have practical answers and the funding to make it all a reality?
Penny Melville-Brown OBE
Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk
Helping disabled people to work since 2000