Opportunities for disabled people in the workplace are likely to come under threat unless government prioritises the recreation of EU safeguards into British statute. That is according to diversity consultancy, The Clear Company, which contributes to the government’s Disability Confident campaign.
The EU and its Member States have a strong mandate to improve the social and economic situation of people with disabilities.
The EU promotes the active inclusion and full participation of disabled people in society, in line with the EU human rights approach to disability issues, through priorities including accessibility, participation, social protection and external action. It works around a firm ethos that disability is a rights issue rather than a matter for discretion.
From an employment perspective, the objective of the European Commission’s European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is to significantly raise the number of people with disabilities working in the open labour market. They represent one-sixth of the EU’s overall working-age population, but their employment rate is comparatively low at around 50%.
Commenting on Friday’s revelation, Kate Headley, Development Director at The Clear Company, said:
As long as the UK was part of the EU, disabled people had the benefit of EU frameworks and directives to act as a safety-net against British government and any power it may exert. Now, the future of policy which most affects disabled people is in the hands of Whitehall alone.
There is no doubt that EU-derived laws, and EU-led initiatives, have had a largely positive impact on the disabled community. This may explain why Miro Griffiths, a former government adviser and project officer for the European Network on Independent Living, recently went on record to say he believed that Britain’s exit from the EU “would have dire consequences for disabled people. Our priority now is to help ensure that the rights disabled people currently hold are protected post-Brexit.
Aside from the issues of how the UK’s decision to exit will impact the NHS and wider care services, the European Health Insurance Card, and EU Air Passengers Regulation – all of which disproportionately affect those with disabilities – we must also look at the effect on disabled people in the workplace.
The EU’s record on assisting disabled workers is strong. Its Employment Equality Directive 2000, for example, led to the removal of the original exemption in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) for employers with fewer than 20 staff in the UK, so that in 2004 it became unlawful for any UK employer to discriminate against disabled people. The employment directive also led to the DDA being changed to make direct discrimination by employers against disabled people unlawful.”
The TUC has identified employment rights that could well be under threat from a government no longer required to comply with EU legislation. Many of these promote health and well-being at work and home, such as the Working Time Directive, which protects from stress and ill-health that arise from working excessive hours including health service workers.
I would urge the government, post Article 50, to recreate the safeguards that disabled people have benefited from under EU membership into British statute. We will gladly continue to support the government in the development of strategy and stand by our commitment to support employers and employees alike. Amid the avalanche of new legislation which will almost certainly flood Whitehall in the coming months, laws that safeguard and support disabled workers must be prioritised as EU law recedes.