Elinor Harbridge warns us that far from giving us more control, Brexit may expose us to the untrammeled powers of government pushing through unscrutinised legal changes whilst risking further erosion of disabled people’s rights.
You thought the extent of Henry VIII’s misdeeds were disposing of five of his six wives, the destruction of the monasteries and rupturing the country’s relationship with the rest of Europe?
Think again. There still exist powers under provisions known as Henry VIII clauses, so named from the Statute of Proclamations 1539, which gave him power to legislate by proclamation (ie without full parliamentary oversight). The Government is planning to use these powers to change EU laws, reasoning that there is not enough time to get through all the ‘corrections’ to EU law needed for them to function properly after they are taken into UK law as part of the Great Repeal Act.
We need to be extremely vigilant during this process that any laws protecting disabled people are properly scrutinised and not lost in the avalanche of laws about to go through Parliament.
Disabled people have already suffered disproportionately from austerity. Readers will be all too familiar with the cuts introduced since 2010. They include the abolition of the Independent Living Fund; the change to mobility rules which disqualifies anyone who can walk up to 50 metres (it was 20); the ending of the ESA Work-Related Activity component resulting in a loss to a disabled person of £30 a week; the change from DLA to PIP resulting in many losing their benefits. The list goes on …
Add to these the swingeing cuts to local authorities which have brought some of them to the brink of bankruptcy and a stark vision of the future for disabled people is clear.
There is a real danger that Brexit will result in a dismantling of human rights safeguarded by the European Court of Human Rights as well as the withdrawal of much-needed financial support from European structural and investment funds.
How has the EU benefited disabled people?
The Disability Discrimination Act, introduced in the UK in 1995, did not protect companies with fewer than 20 employees – following an EU directive the UK had to adapt its legislation to cover small companies in 2004.
Sharon Coleman had to resign from her job because of her disabled son. In 2008 she brought a case to the European Court which ruled in her favour saying that the European employment equality directive meant that the prohibition of direct discrimination is not limited to disabled people. When we leave the EU we will no longer have the option of appealing to the European Court.
Thanks to the coordination of social security systems, UK citizens living in other EU countries can receive benefits, such as PIP.
In addition, the financial support for UK disabled people from European structural and investments funds could be in jeopardy. Voluntary organsiations representing disabled people are concerned that funding for disability programmes will be lost as the Government has not committed to continuing these after 2020. At risk will be employment services for disabled people which are funded until 2020 by the European Social Fund. To date there has been no discussion about what will happen after 2020.
We hear that the civil service is at breaking point trying to deal with the paperwork involved in making such a colossal change to our legislation. Under these circumstances, the danger that laws protecting disabled people could well slip through, subject only to the rules devised by an autocratic monarch.