Last week Dimensions co-hosted a hustings event for disabled people in London, ahead of the London mayoral election. Sadiq Khan and Zak Goldsmith were both there – a good start - and by the end I think both felt well and truly grilled.
But important as it is, the London Mayoral election is being overshadowed by the EU Referendum. I was too young to vote last time round so this is easily the most important election I’ll have participated in. You can’t vote if you’re not registered so if you’re not you can spend less than 5 minutes doing so at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
This referendum has split the main political parties, and even some nominally on the same side can’t seem to agree to work together. There has been an awful lot of ‘noise’ recently about what charities and other not-for-profits can and can’t say on key issues facing the country.
Dimensions’ non-political rules require us to adopt a neutral organisational position. However, this is a vitally important issue that will affect the lives of people with disabilities for generations to come. Therefore we will seek to prompt people with disabilities to engage and inform themselves ahead of voting.
At time of writing, the key issues seem to be sovereignty and economy, and the polling is neck and neck. But little has yet been written about the impact of Stay or Leave on vulnerable people: on welfare, on social justice, on social care. So I’ve written this blog with the aim of provoking some questions that the 10m disabled people in the UK, and those around them, might want to consider. Let’s start the discussion at #EURefDisability.
Will outcomes and quality of life improve or get worse under Brexit?
Healthier public finances potentially lead to less pressure on welfare. The state of public finances is one of the key questions in the whole debate and I don’t think anyone has yet put forward a definitive view about what will happen to them in the event of staying or leaving.
The nub then, is how likely is an economic downturn and of course, the two sides hold opposing views. Would companies scramble to relocate production outside the UK? Would barriers to trade be erected? Might the claimed “ten years of uncertainty” itself result in a downturn?
With the adult social care sector valued at £43bn, a downturn would certainly force yet more cost cutting measures on our sector - notwithstanding the latest forecast £4bn funding gap. Funding for public services has been cut dramatically in the last few years and I don’t think we could withstand even further cuts if we suffer a significant economic downturn.
So a key question to keep asking the Stayers and the Leavers is to justify their opinions as to whether staying or leaving is more or less likely to lead to an economic downturn.
Only one thing is certain: whatever the referendum result, the losers will claim that things are getting worse and the winners will claim otherwise.
Will Brexit affect social justice?
Let’s highlight one point that frequently gets lost in the debate. Exiting the EU would not automatically lead to exiting the European Convention of Human Rights. They are separate things. A requirement for membership of the EU is participation in the ECHR but not vice versa. So individuals with disabilities who have had recourse to the EU to challenge British legislative and judicial decisions (think bedroom tax) would still have this power. For now.
Leaving the EU would then give future governments the choice as to whether we should seek to withdraw from the ECHR in future. So for disabled people continuing membership of the EU can be seen as a safeguard against this possibility. If we were to exit the ECHR, might this undermine the formalised human rights of all UK citizens – especially worrying for society’s most vulnerable?
So a question to ask the Stayers and Leavers could be about their level of commitment to the ECHR.
Steve’s full blog is hosted on the Dimensions website. Click here to read it.