As the UK starts to plan its exit from the European Union, what will leaving the EU mean for Britain’s 10 million disabled people?
The EU has been at the forefront of supporting anti-discrimination legislation, and this has included taking some countries to court for their failure to implement it. It has also been responsible for introducing:
- Equality Law
- EU Air Passengers Regulation 2006 which requires operators to provide help to disabled passengers travelling in the EU. Similar regulations have also been enforced for travelling by ship, bus, coach and train.
- The EU Parking Badge that allows disabled people to be able to use certain parking facilities EU countries.
- Braille labelling on medicine packaging.
- Accessibility in Procurement Processes which ensures that public bodies include accessibility in plans to introduce or maintain structures, systems or services.
- Benefits that UK disabled people can claim while living in other EU countries.
Leaving the EU will mean that people in the UK with disabilities, would not benefit from any future disability related regulations that the EU introduce and would have to rely on the government to keep up with the advancement of the rights of people with disabilities.
Former Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson voted to stay in the EU, she said: “Our membership of the European Union has had real, positive benefits for the millions of UK residents with limiting long-term illnesses, impairments or disabilities. It has helped to counter workplace discrimination, obliged transport providers to make their services more accessible and secured access to some UK disability benefits for Britons living in other EU countries.
“Not only would leaving Europe jeopardise these, it would close us off from enjoying the rewards of upcoming legislation that will further increase accessibility and risk a recession that would leave less money to be spent on much-needed support services.”
But supporters of Britain leaving the EU disagree and claim that the UK was already acting to tackle disability discrimination before the EU and not all the governments in the EU have had a good record on the issue.
Fiona McGhie, a public law expert at law firm Irwin Mitchell, says that disabled people’s rights may still be safe even after Brexit. “Membership of the EU offers a large degree of protection for people with disabilities because of its directives on equality. However, if that protection was removed by a vote to leave the EU, people with disabilities would still benefit from the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Convention on Human Rights.
“It is unlikely that Equality Act would be repealed should the UK leave the EU, as we would still need to comply with the other international conventions which we have ratified. However, people with disabilities would not benefit from any further directives or regulations that the EU issued on disability rights and would be reliant on domestic legislation and common law.”
It could take up to two years to completely separate the UK from the European Union and only time will really tell what the true impact of a Brexit will be on disabled people. The priority now for disabled campaigners is to help to ensure that the rights disabled people currently hold are protected post-Brexit and the government sees protecting disability rights as a priority in the future.