Rights for Disabled People Sept03

There are about 600 million disabled people in the world of which 40m are in the EU. Many are poor, disadvantaged in securing education and health services, discriminated in employment, ill-served by public transport and excluded by society. They are unable to make full use of public services including access to information and communication technologies.


The UN Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons 1975 & 1993, the EU Declaration in Article 13 of the Treaty(TEC) and the recent European Parliament Resolution on “The rights and dignity of the disabled” supplement the UK statutes protecting the rights of our disabled citizens. For the EU, 2003 is “The Year of People with Disabilities”. 


Is the EU, which will soon comprise of 25 Member States, able to offer effective rights and opportunities to the disabled? Should it be the EU or individual Member States who should guarantee such basic rights? Should disabled people expect access to public transport and community services e.g. hospitals, museums and libraries in all Member States?


The EU does not have a ‘Charter of Rights’ for the disabled that is binding across all Member States. Whilst all Members are obliged to tackle discrimination in employment, as specified in the TEC (Article 13), the record across the EU suggests widespread discrimination and exploitation. The disabled and their representative institutions are neither consulted fully nor involved actively in formulating, monitoring and implementing national or EU Disability Convention or statutes.


In this European Year for the Disabled, the EU should formulate appropriate legislation to:-

  1. define the various categories of impairment in relation to social and environmental aspects;

  2. offer disabled people equal rights in employment and social housing; 

  3. facilitate provision of access to public information, buildings and amenities;

  4. offer equal access to education and vocational training.


The proportion of older people in the EU is increasing. Disability is a major problem with an ageing population. As many of the elderly wish to obtain part time work, we need legislation to recognise and compensate where appropriate. Politicians and political parties must respond sensitively and effectively to the needs of the disabled.


Many disabled workers also wish to be temporary agency workers and work in specified positions for limited periods. Such limited working hours and minimal responsibility suit their circumstances. They are satisfied with the reward offered by their employers according to mutually acceptable contracts. The UK has over 300,000 people employed on such flexible terms and the disabled form an increasing part of this number.


The EU’s proposed ‘Agency Workers Directive’ threatens this advantage for UK workers, including the disabled. This Directive will require employers to offer full benefits, including holidays and pensions, for temporary workers regardless of the period of employment. The Directive would force most employers to limit temporary employment and recruit fewer disabled people if they know that they are likely to prefer shorter periods of employment. This will seriously disadvantage thousands of part time employees, especially the disabled.


The UK unemployment rate is 4.9% (compare with an EU average of 9%) and for the under 25’s it is 11.8% (compared with an EU average of 18%). Such a favourable situation is the result of a fairly flexible labour market. Enforcement of the EU Agency Workers Directive, driven by France and Germany in Brussels, will erode our economic competitiveness. We must oppose this EU Directive and ensure that we have employment laws that suit our workers, including the disabled.