Disability rights are human rights – and why this matters on Human Rights Day 2019

Colourful stick figures in front of a colourful world map

The phrase “disability and human rights” remains common. Its continued use indicates there is still a lack of recognition that the rights disabled people have are fundamentally rights we have as human beings. Equally, many pan-human rights narratives and projects still often largely neglect to give sufficient attention to the complex and multiple issues that still affect disabled people’s lives in the UK today.

Yet human rights have been at the forefront of the agenda in the UK, particularly during the last 18 months amid Brexit related debates. It is encouraging that human rights issues have made their way into critical discussions at strategic level in political policy development. It has, however, not gone unnoticed that human rights being present on such agendas has been, for the most part, due to human rights committees and bodies pushing this topic into mainstream debates from ‘outside’ of where political decisions are made. As an example, it was the Joint Committee on Human Rights that pushed the topic of ensuring human rights are maintained when the UK Government makes international agreements during and after Brexit into the forefront of Brexit related debates. Similarly, it was the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur who visited the UK to undertake an inquiry of poverty and human rights to ensure the Government paid attention to how well human rights were being monitored as poverty develops in the UK. On each occasion, the conversation did not come from the centre of Government; it came from groups on the periphery of Government.

There is good news and bad news here. On the one hand, it is evidence that political debates and challenge, via the groups surrounding Parliament and Government, has an effective voice that is, for the most part, heard and responded to. On the other hand, it is disappointing that maintaining human (including disability) rights does not always feature as embedded, ‘automatic’, and mandatory topic of consideration during policy development at the most strategic level of Government.

Business Disability Forum wants this to change. This is why we responded to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR)’s call for written evidence on human rights in international agreements post-Brexit at the beginning of this year (January 2019). We made some recommendations to the Committee, and we were thrilled to see the Committee deliver such a thorough report which reflected many of our concerns, mainly:

  • To ensure disabled people’s rights are specifically included and recognised as human rights;
  • That the agreements we make with international bodies must reflect the UK’s own equalities and human rights legislative standards;
  • To ensure continued compliance with human (including disability) rights is reviewed throughout the delivery lifecycle of an agreement;
  • To make human rights equality analyses part of international agreement sign off processes; and
  • For the JCHR and Parliament to be part of that analysis scrutiny process.

If agreed by the next government, the impact of the last two points would be huge. Making a strategic human (including disability) rights equality analysis part of the process of international agreement making will ensure accessibility, disability equality, and human rights are considered as a mandatory part of the UK’s international agreement process. It will mean that accessibility and the rights of disabled people will be central to decision making to ensure any agreement the UK makes will not adversely impact on disabled people’s lives.
Following the publication of the JCHR’s final inquiry report, we were pleased to see Harriet Harman MP (Chair of the JCHR) say:

“The UK Government must not become the weak link for human rights when making international agreements as we prepare to leave the European Union. Human Rights should not be an ‘add-on’ to any international trade agreement or treaty, but be embedded from the outset, drawing from the right expertise to ensure the highest standards”.

They are excellent words to leave with us on Human Rights Day, and we hope (and will monitor) the next Government will ensure these words are made a reality. Importantly though, this is evidence that by contributing our expertise and evidence gathered from our networks and member businesses, we have influence that makes an impact, and has the potential to change processes at the most strategic level of Government that affect people’s lives.

Therefore, with an election looming this week, Business Disability Forum would like to say thank you to our members and networks of disabled people who have contributed to our human rights policy work this year. In doing so, these businesses #StandUp4HumanRights and we continue to believe that this matters – and makes a difference.

Happy #HumanRightsDay.


Stat of the day: The most ’employable’ impairment groups

By Angela Matthews

I’ve been looking at – put crudely – the most employable types of conditions and impairments. This is partly due to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) recent report on disabled people’s experiences of barriers to employment. The report is quite data-heavy (which is great fun – really) and looks and 2012 labour force data. Although the EHRC are not using much data that we haven’t seen before, their analysis and explanations are wonderfully in-depth.

The data shows that the two largest impairment groups in employment are skin conditions/allergies (71 per cent) and diabetes (70 per cent). We perhaps don’t need the data to tell us which two groups are most represented in unemployment – learning difficulties (13 per cent) and depression/bad nerves (12 per cent). When we look at economic inactivity (i.e. those not in employment and not looking for or available to work) mental illness comes out worst, with 70 per cent being economically inactive. Progressive illness and learning disabilities come joint second at 52 per cent.

For those who like pretty data charts and colours, the proportions of employment, unemployment, and economic inactivity within each impairment group can be compared:

Comparison chart showing the employment rates of people with different disabilities

For those with learning difficulties and mental illness who are employed, the type of employment tends to be – according to the report – “unskilled, ‘routine’ jobs”. Of the disabled people who are unemployed, the most common reasons for this were cited as the disability or condition itself, lack of job opportunities, and difficulty with transport. Additionally, above lack of experience/qualifications, lack of confidence, and attitudes of employers/colleagues, the disability or condition itself was the main barrier experienced by disabled people in all economic groups – whether they are employed, unemployed, or economically inactive.

If you have any questions or if the chart isn’t accessible, please let me know.