As you are probably aware, ever since the invocation of Article 50 on 29th March 2017, the entire country has been on-edge. Whether you are a ‘brexiteer’ or a ‘remainer’, everyone’s fear of the unknown and split opinions have made the process of leaving ever more… complicated, to say the least.
How are local businesses and multinational corporations affected by this? What would the transition period mean to trade and immigration? Are we going to remain in the single market? What about the customs union? Are we going to have a free-trade agreement? What about the Backstop and Ireland? Are we going to have free movement? What about farming and fishing? What about research funding? When do we get that £350m/week for the NHS? What impact does Brexit have on the lives of people with disabilities?
If you’ve been following the Brexit process, all these questions should sound familiar as they have, and still are, being discussed (rightly so!). But what about that last one? Is there even any relationship between the quality of life of people with disabilities and Brexit? Spoiler Alert! Yes.
The EU Withdrawal Act converts current EU law into domestic law as we leave ensuring enough time for the UK to either modify or remove some or all of the EU laws after thorough thought and discussion. The act also allows corrections to be made to laws that are no longer applicable once we leave straight away. However, which EU laws apply to people with disabilities?
The UK has generally been very good with disability laws and legislations; for example, when the UK passed the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act in 1970, it was the first legislation in the world to recognise and award rights to disabled people. In 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was introduced, which included education, transport, and the provision of goods, facilities, services, premises, employment and occupation. However, businesses with fewer than 20 employees were protected if they discriminated on grounds of disability. This exemption was removed from UK law in 2004 after the EU legislation, the Framework Directive for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation, came into effect in 2000.
In 2008, discrimination against employees due to their carer status or relationship to a disabled person became unlawful in the UK as a result of a European Court of Justice Judgement. This was an issue that was missed in the DDA and many people had suffered from ‘discrimination by association’. Imagine the impact of being discriminated against due to your relative/child/partner being disabled. Not only would this put massive stresses on the family’s financial situation but also stress the relationships with the disabled person. Not only that but the mental stress that is placed onto the disabled person, knowing that their family is unemployable because of their disability is immense and this is in addition to all the other mental stresses that come with a disability.
There is no doubt that most disabilities incur extra costs to the person. Whether it is healthcare costs, transport costs or equipment costs. The UK government understands this, and has created Personal Independence Payments (PIP) to support people with the extra costs, allowing them to independently contribute to society. The EU’s regulation on the coordination of social security systems means that British citizens eligible for PIP can continue to receive it whilst living in another EU country, extending the person’s independence across the continent.
Not only that but making the country more accessible and removing the barriers faced by people with disabilities in society requires re-planning and costs. The EU supports the UK with these costs through the EU Structural and Investment Funds – which place a great deal of emphasis on anti-poverty and social inclusion measures.
The European Accessibility Act, proposed in 2015, aims to set requirements for products and services, such that they are more accessible. For example, trains and busses to be designed with accessibility in mind and cash machines to have headphone jacks for the visually impaired, amongst other things. Leaving the EU would prevent people with disabilities from benefiting from upcoming EU legislation on accessibility.
Although the UK has been a pioneer in disability and inclusivity legislations, the EU has helped to shape and refine the rules, such that no one is excluded and secondary issues of disability are accounted for. Leaving the EU would not cause a massive change in disability laws straight away; however, the UK would then be able to ‘roll back’ some of the EU laws that protect and enable the independence of those with disabilities. This reduces the power of the voice of people with disabilities as there would be a reduction in the domain of advocacy.
Will the UK decide to ‘roll back’ the laws? I personally think that’s unlikely (or at least I would like to think so), since the UK government has a proven track record of caring for those with disabilities. Also, more recently, The Papworth Trust suggested that the UK is one of the best EU members in terms of treatment of disabled people. Could financial help provided for people with disabilities abroad be affected? I think that would be one of the most likely changes we will see. I do however believe that some collaboration with the EU around disability will be beneficial as there would be a much bigger pool of experience to enable us to create the best laws. Even if it’s just for humanitarian purposes.