My daughter Emily is just one of the estimated 11million disabled people living in the UK.
Although she was too young to vote in the EU referendum, many in the community did, and like everyone else across the country, they deserve to know what is going on and to have their views heard. Brexit will very much impact the lives they lead. At the moment the lumbering beast of Brexit is a standing joke around the world, a global comedic quiz show of Deal Or No Deal. The world looks on aghast, thinking the UK has decided to action mutually assured destruction, destruction that has potential casualties that are rarely noticed.
As we all know, the core of the Brexit argument has always been one stolen from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “What has Europe ever done for us?” Well, actually, apart from keeping the peace and trying to unify everyone, the EU has been incredibly influential in development of disability law. From a parent of a disabled child point of view, it was wonderful to see an organisation like the European Union actively promote inclusion as a priority. So, to the EU sceptics across the country, I give you these facts.
The first European Union-constituted piece of legislation against disability discrimination was the Framework Directive for Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation in 2000, setting out to protect individuals in employment against discrimination on account of race, sexual orientation, religion and of course disability. This legislation forced the UK’s DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) to amend its archaic law which stated that companies with less than twenty employees were protected if they discriminated on grounds of disability. Odd to have a discrimination act which discriminated. In 2010 along came the rather wonderful European Disability Strategy which aimed to eliminate barriers across Europe allowing disabled people full rights to inclusive education, employment, health and so much more. At the moment people with disabilities can continue to claim their essential benefits across the EEA (European Economic Area) such as PIP and carers allowance, affording travel with peace of mind.
If some reading this are still not convinced, look at the other facts. The EU established the right of disabled people to access air travel, which included help boarding on and off planes and care of equipment. Although most UK airports are quite terrible and lacklustre at this, the mandate remains (so far). Also, our European neighbours created a scheme for people with complex health needs, the European health insurance card which can provide emergency medical treatment abroad, on par with local residents. The sad fact with the UK’s paranoia of health tourism, coupled with Brexit could mean no more continuation of this and other practices. Disabled young people, including my daughter could face barrier after financial barrier through purely wanting to explore a world that they very much are part of and deserve to see.
There have been huge investments from the EU, investment designed to make life easier in our still inaccessible society. The European Social Fund has invested, and was looking to invest nearly £3billion in the UK up to 2020. The EU has also invested in disability tech and other essential projects that would be very worth a Google. Support from the continent has been nothing but supportive and influential and is in danger of being rescinded. Surely disabilities dark age here should not be allowed to darken further. Will funding cease? who knows? and that’s the point, where will these sums of money come from in the worst case scenario?
The EU hasn’t just helped on a funding and law making front, it has supplied the health care system with a huge workforce of people that disabled children and adults could not afford to be without, Doctors, health professionals and care workers. According to thinktank Global Future, ending the freedom of movement could have a devastating impact on social care By 2026 there could be 100,000 fewer adult care workers in the UK, a frightening scenario for many dependent on round the clock care just to exist. From physiotherapists to doctors and more, all were once welcome, but now with rampant xenophobia from a small section of society coupled with a genuine feeling of not being welcome, not to mention, according to reports, having to earn more than £30,000 a year, numbers will drop. There are people in the system with no family support who rely on daily care visits to assist with pharmaceuticals, toileting and just social contact. As a parent of a disabled child the thought of Emily not being able to access care for her many needs is terrifying. Migration plays a pivotal role in this sector. The system is already buckling under the weight of underfunding and staff shortages, restricting “low skilled” EU workers is a further, unnecessary cruelty, a callousness to the people potentially hardest hit.
Fear over care and benefits are bad enough, but when the disabled community get caught up in media hysteria, it seems the potential bad news just keeps coming. The media caught wind of the potential of a no deal Brexit, and the news that the NHS were beginning to stockpile medicines and bloods set of panic alarms all around the country. For instance Emily relies on pharmaceuticals to keep her body free of infection, especially her kidneys, and for a child terrified of operations, we are concerned that missing a drug could lead back to the operating theatre. Emily is not alone in this scenario. There are millions across the country more reliant than us who are not being assured or communicated with. The reality is, should we be stockpiling? Will it really come to this? Is Brexit worth the potential extra pressure on the NHS? I for one think not. When does a want for a return to the past overtake common sense and humanity? Answers please.
As Westminster continues to act like an Etonian nursery for very spoilt, paper waving children, who are more concerned with bickering and business than voters, the promised land of Europe is fading fast for the Disabled. Of course the future is an undiscovered country, and we do not know with absolute certainty that these rules and investments implemented over the channel will be reversed or altered come extraction day. But without certainty or clarification fear creeps in. The UK Government has a terrible, blemished duty of care record to its most vulnerable, it would be good to see the system readdress its shameful faults and show the world it is capable of humanity after March 2019. If Brexit is all about unity on a small island, coming together, prove it, make everyone equal and heard, regardless of community.
Whether they voted leave or remain, the disabled community deserve a hearing and assurances on a future outside the EU bubble. We all need to know what will happen. Remember you judge a society on how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, and to date, Westminster is failing on all counts. The EU has been an incredibly resourceful benefactor, supporter and companion to the disabled community. If we are to exit on terms, let’s make them good terms so we can still enjoy the inclusive, exceptional, futuristic work and opportunities the union has given us all. To see all the good, intelligent work undone by unfeeling, narrow minded bureaucrats would be a giant leap back to the dark times, the community would have to start all over again. Remember, dear old green and pleasant land, As the saying goes, nothing about us without us.