BThe public have barely heard whispers about disabled people and their rights throughout the nationwide conversations about Brexit that have been going on in recent months. You don’t have to look far across the spectrum of national media to see that instance of a ‘No Deal’ will be terrible for-, well, pretty much every demographic of person currently residing in the UK. Mainstream news outlets were busy writing about the extra damage Brexit will probably cause disabled people around 6-12 months ago, long before we reached the even more realistic and even gloomier outlook we have today. Right now, disabled people’s rights aren’t at the forefront of any coverage, but the closer we get to 29th March, the more they should be on the front page of Brexit reporting.
The Withdrawal Act (2018) allows the government to make changes to equality legislation without consulting parliament. We have recently seen many instances of despots wriggling through any loophole they can find in Western democratic constitutions and legislation to get their way (ahem – TRUMP – ahem), and it is hard to feel that the Conservative government leading Brexit will behave any differently.
There has been an appropriate rise in concerns surrounding the future of medical staffing, medical supplies, legal protection of minorities and provisions (or lack thereof) of state support. Christmas saw a wave of memes and radio shout outs to the thousands of people who worked non-stop over the holiday period for our beloved emergency services, but does everyone realise that the NHS is already ‘prepping’ and has been since at least June last year? Trading disruptions post-Brexit have been widely reported, but does everyone realise that this means major barriers to importing the medical equipment which we rely on to save people’s lives? Catheters, breathing equipment and many widely used life-saving drugs are manufactured in Europe and shipped in, and no trading protection has thus far been put in to place regarding the trade of medical items. The NHS has been stockpiling medications, materials and equipment in the event of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit and trying to secure ever wavering contracts with European suppliers who, quite frankly, don’t want to know; in their opinion, Britain has made her proverbial bed and she shall cry in it.
Since the referendum took place in 2017, the number of applications for nursing and support staff roles have dropped significantly. There are, needless to say, serious concerns over the staffing of the NHS.
Another little-known issue worth highlighting here is that of disability rights in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland doesn’t have an Act in place like we have in England (Equality Act 2010) protecting certain characteristics in law; its only internal legislation is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Special Needs and Disability (NI) Order 2005. Key equality protection in Northern Ireland comes from the EU Court of Justice; their position in terms of disability rights post-Brexit, therefore, is even more precarious than ours in England. Charities and disabled people’s rights movements have campaigned for governmental promises that any newly drafted post-Brexit legislation will not offer anything below what the current laws do in term of protecting the rights of disabled persons.
Fortunately, the whole UK will still legally have to answer to the UN under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; this is international legislation, and not one that will change depending on the terms of our ever-nearing Brexit. However, there is not much of a precedent for Britain being called upon to face justice for its monumental failings regarding the rights of disabled people, and it is hard to feel that in the tumultuous times to come, with all other areas of policy also being an absolute buffoon-fest, disabled people will be prioritised. Remember when Ian Duncan Smith was investigated by the United Nations Committee of Rights of Persons with Disabilities after the Department of Work and Pensions revealed that between the years 2011-2014, 2,380 people died within six weeks of being declared ‘fit to work’ by the government? After a couple of years of investigating, the UN reported ‘gross failings’ of the government in upholding the rights of disabled people. What happened? The DWP spent nearly £40million on pathetic legal battles trying to stop disabled people from receiving the social security they were entitled to.
The recent years of austerity, and lack of criminal responsibility taken by our government do not suggest there is much hope for the future. So, what CAN we do, aside from buying loads of tins of beans?
We just have to keep shouting, getting in the way and pissing people off until we’re heard.
How? Where? Write to your MP, have a big old rant in a pub or share your story online.
Rants welcome below!
You can sign the nationwide petition to have a #finalsay on Brexit here.