Leaving Europe is on everyone’s mind; opinion between disabled people has been divided on the pros and cons on UK’s status in the European Union. Disabled people have voted to leave the EU for a whole range of reasons which includes retaining parliamentary sovereignty and leaving a neuro-liberal institution alongside the impact that immigration has had upon disabled people lives. However on the other hand, disabled people supporting UK’s membership in the EU cite possible regression of disabled peoples’ rights, freedom of movement, and the impact upon their ability to employ PAs from EU states and access to health and social care services. I am going to use this blog to explore the issues from the various opinions expressed by disabled people.
I share similar concerns with other disabled remainers around the potential of disabled people’s rights being attacked, as a result of withdrawing from the EU fundamental Rights charter and European Convention on Human Rights. Also, I am concerned that UK will no longer have to implement new and helpful directives and regulations that would improve disabled peoples’ rights such as on sea and air travel and widening the definition of disability. However, Brexiters are very quick to remind us all, that disabled people have always secured rights by their own rather than EU efforts. We did not achieve the Disability Discrimination Act and Equality Act with support of EU.
Opinion is divided on the impact upon immigration on disabled people’s lives. Before immigration, a whole range of disabled people (including those with learning difficulties) would be gainfully employed both in the public and private sector. However, I have noticed how much more difficult it is for disabled people to even get an “entry level” job, working in retail, catering and office admin as a result of more people competing for dwindling number of jobs in these sectors. Increasingly, we are seeing it becoming harder for disabled people to land a job that reflects their qualifications, skills and knowledge as a result of higher qualified people coming from EU. But the economists have always predicted there will be fewer jobs, particular at entry level as a result of automation, an issue unconnected by our status in EU.
Disabled people advocating for remaining in EU are deeply concerned that leaving EU would threatened their right to independent living, because high percentage of employed staff come from EU states. What is interesting is that disabled remainers have not said having choice or that EU workers have certain characteristics, experience, shared culture and interests that would make them better than UK PA workers. Availability rather than choice of PAs were the overriding reason for retaining freedom of workers. However, for disabled people reliant on social care agencies or institutionalised care staff, there are real issues about the quality of care worker often resulting from language and cultural barriers. EU procurement rules require LAs to subject publicly funded health and social care services to regular competitive tendering exercises are often cited for increased privatisation. Whilst many EU states excluded care services from EU procurement requirements, nevertheless the UK decided to act differently. Wholesale competitive tending of care services took place after the 1992 NHS & Community Care Act was passed so privatisation of services was a deliberate decision made by the UK Conservative Party.
Brexiters have argued that the money saved on EU membership could be used for investing into NHS and other public services that many disabled people depend on. From what I can see, we will be spending a lot of the “savings
” on the divorce bill or spending on other priorities resulting from BREXIT. There is no guarantee that the funding will be spent on supporting disabled people’s organisation and deinstitutionalisation. However, Remainders will remind us the EU structural and Social Funds have pumped millions of pounds into projects that have benefited disabled people, particularly in supporting independent living. The EU structured funds are usually funnelled through neoliberal institutions such as Greater London Authority where I have seen limited evidence of the money being spent on supporting disabled peoples inclusion and therefore the jury is out on this.
EU over the years has become much more focused around the needs of the economy than their citizens. I heard from one very well-known activist for BREXIT who argued very passionately that UK needs to get out of EU, a neuro-liberal institution which is in the pockets of globalisation and capitalism which does not serve the needs of disabled people. However, leaving EU means we have to negotiate trade deals on our own with individual states such as USA that are more supportive of rampant capitalism than the EU. Whilst EU is a large neoliberalism institution, I do not think we will move away from global capitalism, there is no real appetite in any political parties with any chance of winning a General Election. Whilst disabled people have been adversely affected by capitalism I am not convinced leaving EU will mean turning our backs against the oppressive economic system.
My overall impression is that disabled people have advanced our rights through UK and EU institutions and indeed International institutions. And this will continue regardless whether we remain members of any international institutions. However, the act of withdrawing from such institutions puts disabled people in a weaker position to campaign and work cooperate internationally to promote our rights; after all we all need to work internationally to combat global capitalism and neuro-liberalism.