As a founder member of the UK disabled people’s independent living movement, John Evans finds nothing to celebrate in the result of the EU referendum.
23 June 2016 will not go down for disabled people in the UK as “Independence Day”, as coined by Nigel Farage. In fact, it will go down as the blackest day in the modern history for disabled people in the UK and for our human rights. You only have to look at the current postings on Facebook by disabled people expressing their fear, anger and frustration for our future following the referendum result. I cannot remember ever seeing such a collective outpouring of disgust and dissent by disabled people.
With the exit from the EU, we simply lose too much and gain nothing. Progressive legislation which protects and strengthens our human rights will be sacrificed. After the vote to leave there will be further threats to Independent Living through further austerity measures as already predicted by the Chancellor. We will lose opportunities to work in the EU and we will not have the same freedom of movement and choices we have benefited from until now. We will not be able to engage and employ PAs and carers from other EU countries in the future.
As somebody who has had over 30 years of experience working with our fellow disabled colleagues throughout the EU and know the many valuable benefits we have gained within the context of the EU legislative and policy framework, I am dismayed, horrified and heartbroken about the consequences facing us and it is hard knowing which way to turn.
We are now confronted with the sad prospect of losing our human rights in particular. We will not have access to the EU legislation and directives which have protected our rights for the last 20 years. These include the non-discrimination EU Directive on Equal Treatment in Employment from 2000, which strengthened disabled people’s rights in employment and the workplace, inclusion and equality. This directive supported and strengthened our DDA and equality legislation. There is a new EU Accessibility Act, which supports disabled people’s access to goods and services, banking services, telephone services, audio and media services. We should not forget that the EU Bus directive was instrumental in getting accessible buses in the UK. There are also directives on air and train passenger services which we will lose out on.
The UK Government signed up to the UN Convention (UN CRPD), which aims to protect our rights, and it has been widely criticised for failing to properly implement it. The EU has also signed the Convention and we would have been better off having our rights protected with the support of the EU in this respect as well, due to the lack of commitment of the UK Government. The Convention covers important areas like independent living, employment, education and others. It was the united voice of European disabled people along with others from around the world which influenced the creation of the Convention and these are important rights that we need to protect.
We will not have access to European funding like the Social Fund and the EU Structural and Investment Funds, both of which have been important for many years in supporting numerous projects for disabled people’s organisations and has also helped us strengthen our networks.
As a personal assistance user I have been employing my own personal assistants for 33 years and during this time I have employed PAs from 12 different EU countries. I would not have been able to have managed this without being part of the EU. Now, with the leave result this opportunity will no longer be available to us and will restrict thousands of disabled people finding new PAs. Recruitment of PAs is already a big problem in this country, particularly in many rural areas and now it will become an even bigger problem. This recruitment situation will also impact dramatically on the NHS as it would struggle to find enough staff to keep it going. Social care will also be affected as there are over 80,000 EU migrant workers working in the social care workforce. This will have a disastrous effect on both health and social care.
The future looks bleak and uncertain, but it was very reassuring to receive messages of support today for UK disabled people from both the European Disability Forum (EDF) and the European Network for Independent Living (ENIL).
EDF President Yannis Vardakastanis underlined: “Since its beginning, over 20 years ago, EDF has promoted solidarity among persons with disabilities throughout the European continent and globally. The fight for human rights is a common struggle. EDF will continue to promote unity and solidarity within the disability movement all across Europe, including the UK.”
What is sure is that UK disabled people will continue to work with our fellow disabled people throughout Europe for further advances in Independent Living and our human rights, despite the result of the Referendum. Standing together becomes even more important now than it ever has been. It doesn’t stop me being European and I will fight on.