Disability and ethnicity can constitute a toxic double whammy of neglect and disadvantage, writes Lord Boateng.
The disability charity Scope, and the Equalities National Council, a BME voluntary organisation which gives a voice to those too often unheard and unheeded, produced the report which inspired my debate in the House of Lords, today. The report, ‘Over-looked Communities Overdue Change’makes salutary reading.
Its findings suggest a demographic disability time bomb amongst a growing BME population. There are at least one million disabled people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, 44% of whom live in household poverty compared with 32% of all disabled people and 17% of the population as a whole.
Only four in 10 BME disabled people manage to find employment, 40% of whom are in self or part time employment. Of these individual incomes are 30% lower than for the general population with half earning less than £240 a week. So far so bad! What is equally disturbing is that communication and access is hampered by cultural and linguistic barriers which are compounded by a failure to adequately translate technical and medical language, without an understanding of which those living with disability are especially disadvantaged.
The absence of a National Equality Strategy, highlighted in the UN's most recent audit of the UK by the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, has a particularly devastating effect on the lives of the BME disabled community. They are all too often invisible to services and the services are invisible to them. The result is inadequate provision and a failure on the part of some of the neediest and culturally and linguistically isolated to access those services that do exist. This is not new. No government including the one in which I served has any cause to be self-congratulatory in this regard. But there were some positive steps forward and this government's own recognition in the paper 'Fulfilling Potential Next Steps', that its disability strategy needs to take into account the particular and special need of the BME disabled was one of them.
The UN has rightly criticised this coalition government, for the disproportionate impact of its austerity measures on the BME communities, including those living with disability. There can be no doubt that it is precisely those smaller more people orientated voluntary organisations embedded in local communities that are most vulnerable to cut backs from central but are so vital to BME disabled communities. The evidence from the sector in this regard is alarming. The call will be made on the floor of the chamber for a equality strategy that includes an action plan, targets and monitoring.
The sounds coming from some parts of an increasingly divided government that seems too often to have lost the plot on the whole equalities agenda are not encouraging. This is most dramatically illustrated by the double speak around translation services for those where English is a second language. Translation services were rightly identified by the government spokesperson in the Lords as crucial to effective local responses to the needs of the disabled. However they were bizarrely dismissed as 'divisive' by a cost cutting Secretary of State for Communities. The BME community wants some straight answers on this and other issues not least on the threat posed by the so called Red Tape Challenge, an expensive, time-consuming, and unnecessary review, of sensible and proportionate measures designed to promote equality of opportunity.
Let us hope that this debate produces the reassurance that people of good will, such as community service providers, carers and users alike, seek and are surely entitled to receive.
Paul Boateng was Minister for Disability 1997-98,author of the first Carers Strategy 1998, and as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, chaired the Working Group on Every Child Matters.
Response: Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of disability charity Scope
“Our research shows there are at least one million disabled people from BME communities and this figure is growing. “We know that many disabled people already struggle to get the social care support and services they need yet many existing services are not fully inclusive for BME disabled people meaning they are even more likely to experience social isolation and poverty.
“We urge the Government to ensure the needs of the BME disabled community are addressed through a comprehensive race equality strategy.
“At the same time, the Care and Support Bill presents a unique opportunity for the Government to tackle the chronic underfunding of social care support to ensure all disabled people, including those from BME communities receive the basic support that many so desperately need.”
Response: Julie Charles, Chief Executive Director of Equalities National Council (ENC)
“We talk to BME disabled people every day who are struggling to get vital support. This is the human cost of the lack of funding for services that can support this marginalised community.
“This is not a problem that is going to go away. Services are already underfunded and the BME disabled community is growing all the time.
“The Government needs to take stock of the reality of BME disabled people’s experiences in everyday life and take action to prevent more people falling between cracks in the system.”