How Brexit Could Affect Disabled People in the U.K.


Last year the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in a referendum that came be known as “Brexit.” The European Union is essentially a block that gives members perks who trade with one another; these often satisfy the wants of corporations but has offered the citizens within the area rights and protections too. Some argue that an unelected body, the European Commission, shouldn’t have power over the laws of countries, and others argue the European Union comes with many benefits, both economic and social, that make being a member worthwhile.

There are reasons both for and against being in the EU, a lot of which don’t come from racism and xenophobia despite popular consensus (although some certainly do). But I for one wish we weren’t leaving, not only because our current Prime Minister Theresa May wants to “rip up” human rights, but because under a Conservative government support for the disabled (and the young, unemployed, vulnerable etc.) has been under fire. Without the European Union I fear for human rights, animal rights, economic conditions and of course for myself as someone with a disability.

I am aware this isn’t a very good argument for wanting to say in the European Union, merely fear of my own government, because they were in fact democratically elected. But we do not have much of a checks and balance system in the United Kingdom, and we do not have a codified constitution. We have the House of Lords which is meant to act as a counterweight to the House of Commons, and they have sometimes prevented bills going through, but they too are unelected, often getting their roles merely by inheritance or being appointed by the government. Our only input into our government is a general election once every five years (and the few referendums that they see fit to dole out to us) and our Members of Parliament often follow party lines rather than the wishes of their constituents, so much so it has been referred to as an “elected dictatorship.”

The European Union has acted as a check and balance to our own government; for example when the U.K. wanted to enact a “Snooper’s Charter’ which would enable the government to look at any and all electronic communications by citizens, the European Union’s highest court said it was illegal and prevented it from going ahead. Without the European court of justice we would have this bill and our privacy would be under severe threat, an Orwellian nightmare if you will. This is the sort of situation I treasure the European Union’s involvement in, but there is much to worry about without their involvement, especially because I do not trust our own government to implement a system that will regulate itself.

I do not even trust at this point that our current government will keep or replace the many laws we will leave behind when we do leave the European Union. One piece of legislation from the European Court of Justice made it unlawful to discriminate against employees because of their relationship to someone with a disability. Benefits are also another area in which the European Union impacts the U.K. Currently, British citizens who live abroad within the EU can still receive disability payments, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP). In 2015 the European Union introduced the European Accessibility Act, which aims to improve the accessibility of products and services for disabled people. When the U.K. leaves, this will be left behind too. British citizens could no longer appeal to the European Court of Justice, and there’s the loss of funding from the EU for disabled citizens, such as the €4.9 billion coming from the European Social Fund. The U.K. has agreed to continue with these funds until 2020, but after that, the future is deeply unclear.

There are also indirect implications to disabled people in Britain because of Brexit, such as the state of the National Health Service. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a US-EU trade deal that put the environment, workers and public services, including the NHS, under threat of private corporations, but thanks to a strong campaign by EU citizens TTIP has become widely known and despised. This has caused the EU to ensure the NHS would not be under threat, but since we are leaving the EU a new TTIP-style deal can be pushed between the U.S. and the U.K. Moreover, the Canadian equivalent known as CETA is well underway and could impact the United Kingdom 20 years after we leave the EU; we would not be able to have much say over it after that, either.

If citizens from the EU are made to leave, then we would be left with a huge gap in nurses, carers, doctors and so on within our NHS. 10,000 EU workers in the NHS have already left since the Brexit vote, and many more could follow when the process actually starts to take place. This not only threatens care for British citizens within hospitals, but may also cause disabled and elderly people to be put into care homes, from the lack of carers able to visit them in their own houses.

It seems disabled people have been largely forgotten about in the process so far, with Disability Rights U.K. stating disability rights have “barely been mentioned” in the discussions. As much as I wish we were remaining in the European Union, it could be an amazing opportunity to shape something great that is of our own making. But with Theresa May and the Conservative party at the helm I have no hope for what is to come, and fear for myself as well as millions of others across Europe.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Getty image by S. Borisov.


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