The recession has led to a huge increase in discrimination faced both by disabled people in work and those looking for jobs, according to a leading union activist.
Diana Holland, an assistant general secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest union, told the TUC’s annual disability conference that thousands of disabled people would lose jobs as a result of the recession.
She said she had seen a “massive increase” in the number of disabled people contacting her with work-related problems since the recession began.
Holland told the conference in London that there had been an increase both in discrimination at work, and discrimination faced by those trying to find jobs.
Because of the economic situation, many disabled people were “fearful” of stating that they have access requirements at work, while employers were ignorant of the Disability Discrimination Act and reasonable adjustments.
Michelle Daley, a consultant and former member of the government’s Equality 2025 advisory network of disabled people, told the conference: “The reality is that the recession should not be – but is – used to discriminate against disabled people.”
Billy Blyth, disability employment analysis team leader for the Department for Work and Pensions, said the employment rate for disabled people had “pretty much plateaued” in the last four or five years, with about 47 per cent of disabled people in work.
He warned that, because disabled people were more likely to work in public administration, health and education, they would be at greater risk through cuts to public spending.
But he said the latest statistics showed disabled people had not so far been “disproportionately” affected by the recession.
But Richard Rieser, a leading disabled rights activist and consultant and a member of the National Union of Teachers, fiercely criticised Blyth’s use of the word “disproportionate” and said what should be driving the agenda was the “quite appalling” level of disabled people in work.
He said that disabled people shouldn’t have to pay for the financial crisis “because we have been paying all our lives”.
Rieser said that if public sector organisations laid off disabled people they would be breaching their disability equality duty – under the Disability Discrimination Act – because their employment of disabled people was already so low.
The conference also approved an emergency motion condemning the threatened closure of the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies.