Disability progress ‘littered with missed opportunities and failures’

Published: 03 Apr 2017

Progress towards real equality for disabled people over the past twenty years is insufficient and 'littered with missed opportunities and failures'.

That’s according to the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission following the publication of Being disabled in Britain: A journey less equal, the most comprehensive analysis ever on how the rights of disabled people are protected in Great Britain.

David Isaac, Chair of the Commission, commenting on the damning new state of the nation report into life for disabled people, said:

“Whilst at face value we have travelled far, in reality disabled people are being left behind in society, their life chances remain very poor, and public attitudes have changed very little.

“This evidence can no longer be ignored. Now is the time for a new national focus on the rights of the thirteen million disabled people who live in Britain. They must have the same rights, opportunities and respect as other citizens.

“We must put the rights of disabled people at the heart of our society. We cannot, and must not, allow the next twenty years to be a repeat of the past.”

The report, which covers six key areas of life, finds that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all of them, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement. Despite significant progress in the laws protecting disabled people’s rights, they are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the opportunities and outcomes non-disabled people take for granted.

This includes: a lack of equal opportunities in education and employment; barriers to access to transport, health services and housing; the persistent and widening disability pay gap; deteriorating access to justice; and welfare reforms significantly affecting the already low living standards of disabled people.

The Commission has also highlighted these issues to the United Nations, for their forthcoming examination of how the UK measures up to the international standards on the rights of disabled people (the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities – CRPD).

Today’s report reveals:

  • While the educational attainment gap between disabled and non-disabled children has reduced since 2009/10, the performance of disabled pupils in England, Wales and Scotland is still much lower. In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least  5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively).They’re also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded.
  • The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower.
  • More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16 compared to 2010/11. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with ‘mental health conditions’ and those with ‘physical disabilities’ the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed.
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all.
  • More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived.
  • Social security reforms have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families.
  • Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty.
  • Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home.
  • Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they’re less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • There is an urgent need for prisons to monitor and report on prisoner mental health. Prisoners are more likely to have mental health conditions compared with the general population, and 70% of prisoners who died from self-inflicted means between 2012 and 2014 had an identified mental health condition.
  • Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009 to 2010 to 63,622 in 2016.
  • Changes to legal aid in England and Wales have negatively affected disabled people’s access to justice. Across GB, there has been a 54% drop in employment tribunal claims on grounds of disability discrimination following the introduction of fees in July 2013.

David Isaac continued:

“This report should be used as a call to arms. We cannot ignore that disabled people are being left behind and that some people – in particular those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – experience even greater barriers.

“We must have a concerted effort to deliver the changes that are desperately needed. Vital improvements are necessary to the law and policies, and services must meet the needs of disabled people.

“Britain must be a fair and inclusive society in which everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and succeed.”

The report calls on the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to place a new national focus on disability equality, so that the rights of disabled people are fully realised and to deliver improvements in their experience and outcomes.

These include reducing the education and employment gaps for disabled people; ensuring that essential services such as housing, health and transport meet the needs of disabled people; and improve existing laws and policies to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.

The Commission’s recent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, produced jointly with the other equality and human rights commissions across the UK, also highlights the need to do more to protect the human rights of disabled people. It contains 75 recommendations to the UK and devolved governments on how they can improve the rights disabled people enjoy across areas such as housing, transport, social care and employment. The main public examination of the UK by the UN Committee will take place in August 2017, and the Commission will work with the other UK equality and human rights commissions and disabled people and their organisations to help make the recommendations a reality.

Further to this activity, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is engaged in a range of ongoing work aimed improving the lives of disabled people, including legally enforcing the Equality Act, improving access to public services, housing and transport, analysing the impact of welfare reforms, and influencing new legislation.

Andrew McDonald, Chair of disability charity, Scope, said:

“It is shameful that in 2017 disabled people continue to face such high levels of inequality: at home, at school and at work. And Scope research shows too many continue to face prejudice day-in-day out.

“But government action has been incoherent. While there have been some positive commitments, the impact of recent reductions and restrictions to benefits and inaction on social care threaten to make life harder for many disabled people.

“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call. Urgent action is needed. If the government is serious about shaping a society that works for everyone, the Prime Minister should act now to set out a cross-departmental strategy to tackle the injustices disabled people face.”

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, said:

“This new report makes sombre and disappointing reading, and highlights the unfairness disabled people continue to face, day in and day out.

“As a society, we say we want progress towards disabled people taking a full part in society; but instead we appear to be going backwards.  We need concrete plans from government, with outcomes measured regularly, to ensure we get back on track. We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission report and are keen to work with them and others to tackle discrimination.”

Robert Meadowcroft, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK, said:

“Much of today’s report puts hard numbers on what we hear every day from people with muscle-wasting conditions about the extreme difficulties in finding a job, a safe place to live and accessing the opportunities many of us take for granted. 

“The government has to respond positively and urgently to the severity of today’s findings, not least in calling a halt to the damaging aspects of benefits reforms, but they are not the only people responsible for making society accessible to all.

“Employers can be more proactive about making their workplaces and their recruitment policies more open to disabled people. Local councillors can increase their accessible housing targets. And we can collectively check our own attitudes to make sure that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has better news to report in 20 years’ time. This alarming report is a wake-up call that needs to be heard.”

Paul Spencer, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind said:

“We welcome this comprehensive report which shines a light on the wide-ranging issues disabled people encounter. It’s unacceptable that in this day and age, disabled people still face so many disadvantages across so many different areas of their lives compared to non-disabled people.

“The findings echo our own research, particularly when it comes to work and benefits. We’ve found that when you have a mental health problem you face a number of barriers to getting and staying in work, including employer attitudes and a welfare system which focuses on sanctions rather than supporting people back into appropriate work. We know that stopping or threatening to stop someone’s benefits when they’re too unwell to work is cruel, inappropriate, and ineffective at helping them back into employment. We support the Government’s ambition to halve the disability employment gap, but if this is to become a reality, we urgently need to see a radical overhaul of the benefits and back-to-work system, and workplaces valuing the contribution disabled employees can make.

“The Government has stated that it is committed to treating mental health and physical health equally, yet if you have a mental health problem you’re less likely to be eligible for benefits like Personal Independence Payment (PIP). After years of chronic underfunding of mental health services, people are still facing all sorts of daily injustices. Whether that is travelling hundreds of miles from home and loved ones to find a bed in a mental health hospital or waiting months for talking therapies or even being held in a police cell when you’re unwell because there is nowhere else to take you. We are pleased that greater investment has been promised over the next five years but we’re still a long way where we need to be. Cuts to local government funding have put a strain on the support available to people to live well in the community and the cumulative effect of this is that disabled people are still not getting access the holistic care and support they need, when they need it.”

Notes to editors

Read the full report: Being disabled in Britain: a journey less equal

See the supporting information and videos.

Further statistics

  • While the percentage of children with Specific Difficulties and those with Moderate Difficulties achieving at least 5 A* to C GCSEs has doubled to 25.1% and 7.8%, the exclusion rate for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) was more than 5 times that of children with no identified SEN. In Wales in 2014 to 2015 it was around 7 times higher.
  • Disabled 16 to 18 year olds in Great Britain are around twice as likely not to be in education, employment or training (NEET) as non-disabled children.
  • The disability pay gap persists. Disabled people earned £9.85 compared with £11.41 for non-disabled people (median hourly pay).
  • Older disabled people (over the age of 50) are staying in the labour market longer (from 34.9% in 2001 to 41.7% in 2012), and the number of those acquiring a disability and remaining in employment also increased by 160,000 (58%) between 2001 and 2012.
  • There are specific concerns about the effectiveness of the reform to UK government employment support programmes such as Access to Work and the Work Programme for disabled people. In particular, non-disabled people (35%) are almost twice as likely disabled people (18%) to get a job on the Work Programme. 
Standard of living
  • A higher proportion of disabled people have been affected by the under-occupancy charge (‘bedroom tax’) than non-disabled people. Families with a disabled child have also been affected by the charge.
  • In England and Wales, at least 47% of housing benefit claimants affected by the under-occupancy charge have a disability.
  • Across Great Britain, 59% of families with children that were in income poverty and contained a disabled person lived in material deprivation in 2014 to 2015, compared with the average rate of 20%.
  • Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty: 6.8% compared with 3.3%.
  • Of councils in England with a housing plan, fewer than 17% have set out strategies to build disabled-friendly homes.
  • Disabled people in Britain were less likely to own their own home in 2012-14 (62.6%) than non-disabled people (76.2%).
Health and care
  • In England, despite the waiting time target for access to psychological therapies being cut to 28 days, some people have waited over 90 days.
  • The majority of Health Boards in Scotland have failed to meet the target for all patients of 18 weeks from referral to treatment.
  • On average men with mental health conditions die 20 years earlier than the general population, and women 13 years earlier.
  • Action is needed to reduce the use of physical and chemical restraint for the purposes of behaviour management in hospital and care settings.
Justice and detention
  • In Scotland, disabled people were no more likely to be a victim of crime than non-disabled people (15% for each in 2014 to 2015).
  • Disability hate crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales increased by 44% in 2015/16 on the previous year, possibly reflecting improved reporting and recording practices.
  • In Scotland in 2014 to 2015, charges reported with an aggravation of prejudice relating to disability increased 20% compared with the previous year, 86% of which proceeded to court.
Participation and identity
  • Across Great Britain, there was an overall increase in the percentages of disabled and non-disabled adults who reported having difficulty accessing services in the areas of health, benefits, tax, culture, sport and leisure. In 2012 to 2014 this was 45.3% for disabled people compared with 31.7% for non-disabled people.
The report’s recommendations to the UK and devolved governments for action are:
  1. Reduce educational attainment and employment gaps for disabled people.
  2. Ensure that essential services, such as housing, health, transport and justice, meet the particular needs of disabled people and support their independence and wellbeing.
  3. Promote the inclusion and participation of disabled people in civic and political life.
  4. Strengthen disabled people’s choice, autonomy and control over decisions and services.
  5. Improve existing legislation, policies, frameworks and action plans to better protect and promote the rights of disabled people.
  6. Improve the evidence base on the experiences and outcomes of disabled people and the ability to assess how fair Britain is for all disabled people.

Press contact details

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