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Disability Policy in the UK: Austerity, Brexit and the Search for Equality

December 4, 2018 @ 19:00 - 22:00

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Seven Arts Leeds
31A Harrogate Road
Leeds, LS7 3PD United Kingdom
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With Prof Mark Priestley, Prof of Disability Policy, Centre for Disability Studies, University of Leeds


Mark Priestley is the Scientific Director of the European Commission’s Academic Network of European Disability experts (ANED) and administrator of the international online discussion forum disability-research. He was previously Head of the School of Sociology and Social Policy (2011-2014), and Pro-dean for Research in the Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law (2004-2007). He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and adjunct Visiting Professor at the National University of Ireland Galway.


While the UK was once regarded as an international leader in disability politics it has increasingly gained a reputation for stark inequalities and rights abuses.  Following a long period of deferment, the UK completed its first cycle of dialogue with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2017. This raised a number of significant recommendations and reinforced the findings of a UN investigation into claims of systematic rights violation arising from national welfare reforms. Added to this, an increasingly progressive approach to disability policy by the EU has left far-reaching questions about future policy direction unanswered in the context of Brexit.

There are wide equality gaps for disabled people at risk of household poverty, particularly for people of working age, and including those in work. This risk is underpinned by major reforms of the disability benefit system and employment activation policies. National and international concern about the consequences of austerity policies for disabled people has been heightened by the uncertainties and economic consequences of Brexit. Strong and supportive social policies are needed to reinforce the position of disabled people and other marginalised groups during this transition. The employment situation for disabled people in Britain remains paradoxical. The employment rate for the general population is well above the EU average yet the disability employment rate is below the EU average. The UK Government set an ambitious target to halve the disability employment gap but the measures to address this present significant policy challenges. Supply side policies are not sufficiently matched by demand side policies. Young disabled people are over-represented among early school leavers, among those who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) or without tertiary educational qualifications in adulthood. As policy priorities turn to further liberalisation of the UK market and productivity there is a need to ensure that disabled people benefit fully from investments in basic skills and the widening of participation in higher education.

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