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
    people.

    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
    Cheshire.

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