Don’t let media dictate policies

The Disability Discrimination Bill may be progressing through
parliament, but how much has the government done to improve the
rights of disabled people?

Progress has been made but it has been slow and sometimes
painful. The Disability Rights Commission has been established, and
disabled people’s rights have been promoted through educational
needs legislation and through employment schemes such as Pathways
to Work.

The bill and the rules that came into force last October
requiring businesses and service providers to improve access for
disabled people should enshrine in law more of the rights that
disabled people should be able to take for granted.

But it is not all positive. Businesses have had nine years to
prepare for last October’s rules, yet early evidence suggests many
are still struggling to meet the requirements. Similarly, the
government is to give rail companies until 2020 before they are
required to offer a fully accessible service.

Disabled people have also been concerned by the government’s
posturing on Incapacity Benefit. Rumours of a crackdown have been
rife, with speculation that people will be forced off benefits and
into work. Such a plan ignores the government’s own research in
2001 that found that at most only 0.5 per cent of Incapacity
Benefit recipients claim fraudulently. Disabled people receiving
Incapacity Benefit do so because they need it and are entitled to
it, but this isn’t always accepted by the media. Inflating the very
few fraudulent cases into a “scandal”, to quote a recent newspaper
article, serves only to demonise all recipients.

In the present climate there is a risk that policy will be set
simply to achieve cuts in expenditure. This would be cheap, naked
electioneering and it would be a bad policy for disabled

Many disabled people want to work but are prevented from doing
so by discrimination in the workplace and failures in social
infrastructures such as an inaccessible public transport system. If
the government concentrates on tackling this social exclusion and
avoids pandering to prejudices then disabled people might have
something to celebrate.

John Knight is head of policy at Leonard

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