A year ago the amazing and wonderful Paralympics took place. And there was genuine optimism that the Paralympics would bring real change in terms of attitudes to disabled people.
Officially, athletes and organisers will always want to speak positively about changing attitudes following 2012 and therefore grand claims have been made that there has been a change in perceptions of disabled people, particularly in employment and community engagement.
However, it is only once you scratch beneath the surface that you find out if there is any real substance to these claims.
Employment Law Solicitor Richard Macmillan reports that recently, the charity Scope conducted a survey of over 1000 disabled people. A majority stated that they had not noticed any significant change, but disappointingly, 22% of respondents said that attitudes had actually got worse. This year, the charity Liveability interviewed over 1,000 people to ask about their experiences of disabled people in the workplace. 62% of those surveyed said the biggest barrier to disabled people participating in the workplace was the attitudes of employers. The data shows many employers continue to have negative perceptions of disabled people in the workplace and are reluctant to employ. Only 13% of those surveyed worked with a disabled person and only about 46% of disabled people are actually in employment.
In the Employment Tribunal over recent years, the number of Disability Discrimination claims being brought by employees has kept relatively consistent, from 7,500 in 2009-2010 to 7,700 in 2011-12, decreasing to 7,492 for 2012-13. Although there has been a slight decrease, these figures suggest that discrimination in the workplace persists. This reflects our experience in cases, where disability discrimination remains prevalent in the workplace with many employees forced to bring claims in the Employment Tribunal to get their voice heard.
These figures and those from the surveys do not suggest any notable boost from the Paralympics in terms of attitudes in the work sphere. In contrast, over the last year there has been considerable political rhetoric hostile to welfare recipients including disabled people. It would be disappointing to find that this had now dwarfed the positive glow from the Paralympics.
The party is long since over, but these surveys are a salutary reminder of the real life hurdles ordinary people continue to encounter. You shouldn’t have to be a champion to get on at work. Let’s stop talking about benefits scroungers and remember just how amazing it was to celebrate each individual’s achievements last year, and feel that collective pride and understanding as a society.