How will those with disabilities in the UK be affected by Brexit?

This summer I’m working in the European Parliament as an intern, and I’ve had the opportunity to look deeper into the policies and directives that affect myself as a person with a disability in the EU. Last week, I sat in a workshop that was compiling a report on the 2010-2020 EU Disability Strategy. One of the topics that came up was what can be improved on for the strategy for the next decade, 2020-2030. Missing out on this forthcoming directive is only one way of many that withdrawing from the EU will impact people with disabilities living in Britain. I wondered what would happen to the rights of people with disabilities in Britain after the withdrawal from the EU.

A year on from the Brexit result, just as much (if not more) uncertainty surrounds the citizens of the UK as they wonder what will happen to them in the wake of Brexit. Citizen rights have become a focus of this, but not much has been said on how Brexit will affect those living in the UK who have disabilities. There are estimated to be over 10 million Britons with disabilities, and so it is very important to consider their welfare in the negotiation processes before the UK withdraws from the EU. Working conditions and employment, healthcare, social rights and legislation are the areas I’ll discuss in this blog post.

EU citizens are heavily protected by their membership of the EU and its legislation and directives on equality. As well as strengthening current rights, EU membership ensures the rights in the future. The EU have implemented many different directives which protect the interests of members with disabilities.

The European Accessibility Act is set to change the lives of millions of EU citizens with disabilities, and the UK will lose out on this vital piece of EU legislation by the time Brexit occurs. Currently, the European Commission is debating standardising access to services (including ATMs, banking services, ticketing and check-in machines, and many more). It is unclear if the UK would benefit for a positive outcome of such a directive, seeing as they have already triggered article 50, which initiated Brexit negotiations. The British can still benefit from legislation and directives that is already in place and are law if they so choose, but any future EU legislation or directives will not include the UK. Will the British do anything to emulate the EU’s 2020-2030 Disability Strategy? UK citizens can’t be sure and will have to rely on domestic policy-makers to keep disability rights on track and at the forefront of citizen rights post-Brexit.

The employment Equality Directive prohibits discrimination in the workplace against disability and a number of other minority groups (religion, age, sexual orientation). The Directive was adopted in 2000 throughout the EU. It will be up to the UK government whether or not they want to continue with this Directive after Brexit. If the Directive is abandoned and the UK Government decides to adopt their own directive it must be asked how long it will take and how long will people with disabilities go for without these employment rights before a new system is implemented?

Funding from the EU has supported British NGOs and research. 19% of European Social Fund grants are spent on projects and directives that directly support people with disabilities throughout Europe. As well as this, the European Medicines Agency is based in London. The EMA and the NHS are intrinsically linked, and the fear is that the British health care service will suffer because of Brexit and the EMA´s withdrawal from the UK. The pharmaceutical industry has more than £60bn in turnovers each year. Brexit puts this at risk, with talks having already began on moving the EMA elsewhere in Europe, the future of pharmaceuticals in Britain does not look bright. Because of this the price of drugs and treatments will go up, and both the NHS and the taxpayer will pay the cost.

In my mind, there is no question that EU membership benefits those with disabilities; the proof speaks for itself. I fear for British citizens with disabilities and whether or not their rights will be protected and build upon when Britain withdraws from the EU. The only option of citizens is to wait and hope that the negotiations will work in their favour.

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