THE BLOG

Forgetting Something Prime Minister? Disabled People.

01/02/2016 11:40 GMT | Updated 29/01/2017 10:12 GMT

This weekend marks the end of the Prime Minister's renegotiation with Europe. Apparently.

His plan is to present this to the country after the local elections in May with a referendum to be held across Britain in June.

Since he won his re-election last May, David Cameron has toured the European Union member states and urged them to 'buy-in' to his belief in a need for reform. You have to give him his due; after five years of tough talk and 'veto's that weren't vetoes, he doesn't exactly have many friends around the table in Brussels.

However even if fellow leaders and heads of state were not too enamoured with the Prime Minister's near fatal attempts at European diplomacy and statesmanlike behaviour, the results of the 2014 European Parliamentary elections should in themselves have acted as a shot across the bows to make fellow nation states wake up to the growing discontent that is spreading across the continent.

And since he began the debate over renegotiation, the Downing Street briefings have tended to focus on immigration, trade and benefits as the central pillars of reform.

Employment and opportunity have, surprisingly, been relatively low-level on the PM's list of European priorities.

Yet if reform is to be perceived as genuine, carry the confidence of the majority of the nation and have any chance of making a tangible difference to the lives of Britons, it must be cognisant of all the issues that currently exist and which feed into a growing view that the EU doesn't work for everyday people.

To that end, one of the most pertinent examples of the Prime Minister's neglect is around the existing relationship between the EU and disabled people. It is widely accepted that the prevailing European labour market too often shuts them out and they have opportunities limited.

The Prime Minister should be using his renegotiation with other EU member states to address historic issues that impact upon how the EU currently works for disabled people.

Issues that include access to education - particularly early years learning - is often not adequate. It is also not always easy for disabled people to move around freely, physically get to work, go to a restaurant, and find suitable housing, access public transport, pavements or buildings.

Equally, there are concerns about access to healthcare, social care and welfare. Not all states are as generous as the British system in how it looks after its disabled population meaning a disabled person's willingness to move abroad for work will be less.

Indeed, when the Prime Minister majors on the importance of migrant benefit curbs, he neglects to take into account the impact this will have on disabled people's ability to access work at home and abroad. One rule for Romania is the same rule for Britain. Five year benefit restraints equally impinge on a British person's access to disability benefits in Britain and other European state as it does an immigrants.

Perhaps more importantly is the question of where in the renegotiation has the impact of these suggested reforms to welfare and a lack of understanding of the current European landscape for disabled people even been mentioned by our Prime Minister?

Coming out of this weekend's negotiations, what confidence can or should disabled people have that the Prime Minister is likely to deliver a renegotiation package that address their historic concerns over the relationship between Britain and the EU?

Can we even measure the willingness of other EU member states to engage in the debate on disabled people during Britain's renegotiations and use this as a bridge to build on or, as I think many will suspect, has disabled people and their issues not even featured?

I would suggest that with over 80 million people in Europe currently living with a disability this is an area of the renegotiation that Cameron could have used to curry favour with his European partners and used this as a springboard for further development of his renegotiation agenda.

With more than 7 million UK disabled people eligible to vote in the referendum this is a missed opportunity that the Prime Minister and Britain could well live to regret.

Vicky McDermott

Chief Executive of Papworth Trust & Chair of the Care and Support Alliance