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Brexit: Should disabled people care?

05 October 2018

You could be forgiven for wanting to skip this article.  I’m sure you feel you’ve heard enough. But just hang on in there a minute…

Whether you voted leave or remain, and I suspect disabled people were pretty much reflective of the population as a whole, Brexit does have implication for our rights and for that reason we need to keep a close eye on what is happening.

In June 2017 Disability Rights UK published a manifesto on what we wanted to see come out of any Brexit arrangement.  Our manifesto was based on attending events with other organisations, a survey of member views, interviews with disabled people’s organisations, and we held a discussion event.


Essentially we are concerned about our rights as disabled people and ensuring that they do not get watered down post Brexit; that disabled people’s organisations and projects can continue to be funded even though we will no longer have access to European social funds; and those of us who employ personal assistants (many of whom come from other EU countries) are still able to recruit suitable staff.

As a small organisation, DR UK is not in a position to do more than a little bit of lobbying of parliamentarians and, in any case, we thought we would be stronger joining with others.  So, we joined the voluntary sector Repeal Bill Alliance.  We have been able to make common cause with organisations campaigning for things like children’s rights, women’s rights and environmentalists.

It’s not about whether you are for or against Brexit.  It’s about making sure that our voices are heard and that our rights are not undermined.

We have had some, albeit limited, success.  We campaigned for EU Charter on Fundamental Rights (which goes much further than any other rights agreement) to be included in the EU Withdrawal Bill and therefore brought into domestic law.  On this we were not successful.  But in its negotiating position (Chequers agreement) the Government does commit to continuing to abide by the European Convention on Human Rights.  Not much, but it’s better than the position some politicians wanted to adopt.

On funding that will be lost once we leave the EU and no longer have access to social fund resources, the Government has stated that there will be a Shared Prosperity Fund instead although, of course, it is too early to see exactly what that might look like.

On the recruitment of personal assistants employed by disabled people the position is looking slightly more certain.  At least it seems those PAs from other EU countries who are already in the UK will not have to have their employment terminated. 

All of this of course, depends on whether there is a deal.  There may not be.  It is quite possible that our politicians reject everything, or that the final settlement never gets ratified by the other member states, or we simply run out of time.

Over August and September, the government have been publishing papers on what happens in specific areas in the event of no agreement.  Of particular concern to disabled people is the paper on medical supplies.  Many of us rely on our daily doses of medicines and the thought that the supply might dry up is rather alarming.  There will be stockpiling but what happens after that?  Perhaps it is all a scare story, a bit like the millennium bug.  Remember that?

What will happen now?  That’s anyone’s guess.  MPs have come back to Parliament and the party conference season just as argumentative as they were before they went on their summer holidays.  Will there be a deal and if there is, on what basis?  Will our parliament or the parliaments of other member states agree to it?  Can we cope with no deal? Or will there, should there be, a second referendum?  So many questions: few answers.  Perhaps we should ask Noel Edmonds for help?

The only certainty on the horizon is that time is running out.  We are told that if there is to be an agreement it has to have been reached by the 29th December at the latest to give sufficient time for the necessary ratifications before exit in March 2019.

At DR UK, we will be keeping an eye on developments to do what we set out to do at the beginning of this saga, ensure that our rights are not undermined.  There’s a lot of muddy water to go under the bridge.  Brexit matters to all of us so don’t tune out just yet.

Sue Bott CBE

Deputy Chief Executive

Disability Rights UK

This article is in the latest issue of UNITE, your new disability rights magazine. To get your hands on your FREE sample copy click here.

UNITE is out every month and covers a wide range of topics from accessibility and housing to universal credit and mental health campaigns. This issue looks at the disturbing realisation that the DWP may be ‘spying’ on people to build cases against their benefit claims. We hear from DRUK’s Deputy Chief Executive, Sue Bott CBE on the implications of Brexit for disabled people and we celebrate the contribution of disabled people of colour to the world in a nod to Black History Month.

Our ‘Know Your Rights’ section covers a different area each month and we talk to the relevant experts to ensure you are armed with your rights as a disabled person. The latest issue focuses on how to win your PIP appeals.

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