26/10/2016 13:57 BST | Updated 27/10/2017 06:12 BST

Rio Was A Roaring Success But What Next For The UK's Eleven Million Disabled People?


Last month Great Britain's Paralympic athletes returned to our shores triumphant, boasting 147 medals between them - the biggest haul since Seoul in 1988. We won 64 golds, matching the highest number of gold medal achievements at a Paralympics, equal with China at Beijing 2008.

For each one of these medals, the UK has invested approximately £1.5m, no small amount in real terms, and a great reflection of where there is investment, there is also success.

Sport is undeniably one of our most important cultural and social assets. We are good at it, usually, and it brings people from different backgrounds together. For disabled people, vulnerable to social isolation, this couldn't be truer. It's a mechanism that creates and promotes a sentiment of inclusion, and it is inclusion that lies at the heart of challenging perceptions of what it is to be disabled.

However, therein lies a danger. In creating such moments of jubilation as we've just witnessed, there is a real chance, albeit not intentional, of masking the day-to-day struggles facing disabled people, many of whom continue to feel excluded from society because money isn't being invested into the less-glamorous services and resources which help promote inclusion for millions of them across the country.

While not criticising achievements of ParalympicsGB, might the 11 million people living with disabilities in the UK have been better served by the money invested in the Paralympic GB squad, and what kind of post-Olympic legacy are we to expect from this investment?

Disabled people face exclusion on a multitude of fronts; in the workplace, in education and simply by striving to live independently. What if there was more adequate investment to enable disabled people to realise their potential in employment, education, training, right down to a local level, in order to create long-term, tangible benefits not for the few, but the many?

Take employment for example; for the six million disabled people of working age, lack of employment opportunities is one of the main social barriers they face. Only 46.7% of working-age disabled people have jobs, compared to 76% of the remaining population. Helping those people into work and investing facilities to foster a more inclusive working environment will close this gap, change attitudes, and reduce the amount of state support required while also creating new contributors to the economy.

In education, disabled people are three times more likely not to hold any qualifications compared to non-disabled people, and half as likely to hold degree -level qualifications. Tick-box approaches to disability guidelines coupled with a lack of clarity on inclusion policy has resulted in academic institutions playing a significant role in bolstering these statistics.

From a business perspective, not only are we immediately cutting out a significant talent pool of potential employees, but we're also snubbing a combined spending power of £212 billion. Around 25% of disabled people say they do not frequently have choice and control of their daily lives. Research shows two-thirds of disabled people think products aren't developed with them in mind, with 75% having left a business due to poor disability awareness. There's both clear moral and economic drivers for businesses to chase the so-called 'purple-pound'.

One legacy the Paralympics will leave is the irrefutable evidence that where there is investment, there is improvement. And if we are ever to achieve a true policy of inclusion wherein all people can freely, openly, and without pity, accommodate any person with a disability, then we must re-evaluate where the country invests resources to help.