Baroness Thomas: We were world leaders in how we treated disabled people, but the crown has slipped
Ahead of her debate today on the challenges facing disabled people in the UK in 2018, Baroness Thomas writes about the issue for PoliticsHome.
We were once world leaders in how we treated disabled people, but the crown has slipped, and is in danger of slipping further.
It was a Conservative Government that introduced the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995 after demonstrations outside Parliament, with disabled people chaining their wheelchairs to the railings. And a few years later, more demonstrations led to the acceptance of independent living for many severely disabled people – meaning that they would be supported to live in the community and not in a residential home.
But now the Independent Living Fund has been closed, and the money, not ring-fenced, distributed to hard-pressed local authorities to administer, leading to care package cuts, as they stretch the money as far as they can.
We won’t know the Government’s plans for social care until the autumn, but the care of young disabled people should be high up on the agenda.
Of those who do receive care now, 83% of disabled people say they don’t have enough hours in their care package. With Brexit on the horizon, will there be enough care workers, now called personal assistants, to go round?
A lot of young European nurses and care workers are heading back home because of the chillier climate here, which is extremely sad, not to say alarming.
Most disabled people of working age would love to be able to work – so it is welcome that the Government have a strategy over the next ten years to get a million more disabled people into work.
Curiously, many businesses are keen to boast of their diversity, but they don’t always remember that diversity means including disabled people. But to fulfil their ambitions, the Government will have to put their backs into this policy – not something they’ve demonstrated recently with the revolving door of Ministers for Disabled People.
They have to look at the bigger picture.
To get to a workplace requires the right public transport, or car. There is a huge dearth of accessible or adaptable – and affordable – accommodation in our towns and cities, so a car might be the only sensible option. But a Motability car might have been taken away under the tougher rules for Personal Independence Payments which replaced Disability Living Allowance some years ago. I do wonder whether the Government haven’t shot themselves in the foot with that policy.
Another question is whether there are enough accessible workplaces with suitable toilets. We’ve got to be practical. The big companies won’t be a problem, but most employment is in smaller businesses. The accessibility of shops, restaurants, bars etc on our high streets is still disappointing. Of course not all disability is to do with mobility, and those with hearing or visual impairments must be considered too, as the Government get going with their programme of getting more disabled people into work.
So is the picture unrelentingly grim for disabled people in 2018? No, because there are some great role models in all areas of public life, particularly in the media. But we need a real push from the Government to become world leaders once again.
Baroness Thomas is a Liberal Democrat peer in the House of Lords.