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Baroness Scott: Brexit will disproportionately harm those with disabilities

3 min read

Baroness Scott urges the Government to work closely with the disability sector during Brexit negotiations, "so that they really understand the potential impact of the choices they make."

The impact of Brexit itself, and the consequences of the choices made by the government subsequently, will have a profound effect on the lives of millions of disabled people and their families 

Many disabled people have never recovered from the 2008 recession. Any post Brexit downturn will have a devastating effect on them given that, according to SCOPE, disabled people have additional costs averaging £550 a month. The potential impact on the public purse could be significant too, and with disabled people more likely to be dependent on public services, they could face a real double whammy.

Disability charities are concerned about the loss of grants from European Structural Funds of which around 19% are spent on programmes for disabled people One charity alone, The Papworth Trust, will receive £7million between 2007 and 2016. Of course the government can choose to replace this itself but the sector will be in a long queue with farmers, fishermen, universities and so on.

Clearly, many disabled people of all ages are in need of social care, and use the NHS more than average. With an estimated 130,000 EU migrants currently working in the health and social care sector, losing the ability to recruit directly from that source will be a major blow to the NHS and private sector alike. We are already seeing evidence of an outward flow of people concerned about their future, impacted by the falling pound, and distressed at the rising anti-migrant sentiment in the UK.  

There is currently a 5% vacancy rate in a sector characterised by low wages and unsocial hours. SENSE tell me that around 108,000 people with moderate to severe learning disabilities currently receive no care – a further deterioration would be catastrophic.

Travel to Europe could become massively more difficult should we leave the European Health Card system. For tourists and migrants from the UK alike, the availability of reciprocal health care has become taken for granted.  It's quite possible that everyone will have to make private arrangements, and the costs of health insurance for disabled people can be prohibitive.

There are those who see the departure of the UK from the EU as a chance to  escape from a mass of regulation, whilst others tell us that we will simply replace EU rules with our own.  We can only speculate who will win that battle, but let's be clear what deregulation in this sector could mean. It means losing the protection against discrimination in employment, it means the loss of the EU wide blue badge scheme, UK public transport no longer being legally required to cater for the needs of disabled passengers.

As the Government drags the UK out of the EU it will be essential that they work closely with the disability sector so that they really understand the potential impact of the choices they make on a group of people whose lives have already been affected by their disability and deserve to be treated well.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market is a Lib Dem peer

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