According to the disability charity, Scope, two-thirds of disabled people say they are still treated differently, 20 years after the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced.
The charity also reveals that:
• 40 per cent of disabled people think the UK is a good place to be a disabled person
• 62 per cent of disabled people say they are treated differently because of their disability
• 49 per cent have experienced discrimination in shops, while 31 per cent have experienced discrimination in cinemas and theatres
• 67 per cent of the public admit to feeling uncomfortable about talking to disabled people
• 42 per cent feel that their disability caused them to miss out on a job “every time” or “a lot of the time.”
• Nearly 250,000 disabled people say they have been treated unfairly by an employer
• Disabled people spend an average of £550 each month on disability-related costs
• One-in-10 disabled people pay an extra £1,000 a month on additional living costs
Legislation to prevent discrimination on the grounds of race and gender was introduced in 1976 and 1975 respectively, but it wasn’t until 1995 that repeated calls for equal rights for people with disabilities were finally answered with the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act.
The battle for equal rights for disabled people has never been given the same level of exposure as the campaigns for women’s rights or racial equality. Twenty years after the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced, people with disabilities are still calling for action.
What action is needed?
Baroness Jane Campbell, former chair of the Disability Committee for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: "The fight is far from over; so don't talk about it as if it is. The importance of the act was that it told me, as someone living with disabilities, that the ‘problem’ wasn't my condition but society's way of dealing with it. That was so liberating. But the liberation struggle isn't over."
Data from 'Is Britain Fairer - The State of Equality and Human Rights 2015’ - the most comprehensive review ever carried out regarding progress towards greater equality and human rights protection in Britain - raises concerns about the day-to-day experience of disabled people.
According to the review, too many people with disabilities are still excluded from mainstream society through poverty and isolation, and too many struggle to obtain the support they need to live independently.
Disabled people are disadvantaged in the labour market and routinely experience pay and employment gaps across the country. The disability pay gap is highest in Scotland while the disability employment gap is highest in Wales and Scotland.
The disability employment gap has widened across Britain with disabled people less likely to hold a degree-level qualification than those without a disability. In 2013, the difference between the unemployment rate of disabled and non-disabled people across the UK was significant, with 11.1 per cent of disabled people unemployed compared with 6.4 per cent of non-disabled people.
The gap broadened as the unemployment rate rose more between 2008 and 2013 for disabled people than for non-disabled people. Disabled people are also under-represented in prominent public positions, apprenticeships and at senior levels in both the private and public sectors.
Disability-related harassment has a significant impact on the lives of victims and hate crime remains an on-going challenge. While the number of racially-motivated hate crimes has fallen recently, there has been an increase in the number of hate crimes motivated by religion, disability and transgender, particularly in Scotland.
Disability-related harassment is the focus of the Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ which reveals that although harassment continues to be a commonplace experience for disabled people, systemic institutional failures together with a culture of disbelief are preventing it from being combated effectively.
‘Living in a Different World’ - a 2013 joint inspectorate review into police, probation and the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales - revealed that disability hate crime is both “overlooked” and “under-reported” due in part to a fear amongst disabled people that they won’t be believed by the police or other authorities if they report harassment.
A 2014 report, Removing Barriers, Raising Disabled People’s Living Standards carried out by OPM and Ipsos MORI, on behalf of Scope, found that out of the 2,000 disabled people surveyed, one in 10 believed that attitudes towards them had improved since the Paralympics, while one in five felt that attitudes had actually become worse.
The report found that many disabled people still experience day-to-day verbal and physical abuse. Participants strongly advocated being treated with greater sensitivity and empathy and believed that greater awareness and a better understanding of impairments and how they impact on disabled people had the potential to significantly improve their lives.
Participants also called for better access to more tailored information and personalised support, stating that the removal of barriers people with disabilities face on a daily basis depended on the government playing a much greater regulatory and enforcement role.
There has clearly been progress since the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act 2010. I still find it frustrating however that so much more can be done for disabled people and those with disabilities are not making better use of the powers available to them under the Act to tackle discrimination.
The positive experience of Britain hosting the Paralympic games in London 2012 seems to have been forgotten and we need to remember that everybody has a part to play in the workplace and in their community irrespective of disability.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the basis of so-called ‘protected characteristics.’ The Act gives people with disabilities the ability to use the legislation to take cases to court if they feel they have been treated less favourably or directly discriminated against. Disabled people have to become better at enforcing the legislation themselves.
As the ‘Is Britain Fairer’ review illustrates, more needs to be done to tackle discrimination and promote dignity and respect of disabled people. We need much greater fairness and equality of opportunity in the economy, and we need to eradicate the myriad of physical barriers disabled people face every day, for example, on transport, in workplaces, retailers and sporting venues.
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