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Disabled minority ethnic communities face disaster, warns activist

(26 April 2012)

Black and minority ethnic (BME) disabled people face a “disaster”, with deteriorating health, increased poverty, and lower life expectancy, if nothing is done to deal with their unmet needs, according to a leading disabled activist.

The warning comes as a new report warns that BME disabled people face “wide-ranging, subtle and complex” forms of discrimination, and have “considerable” unmet needs.

The report, Over-looked Communities, Over-due Change, says many BME disabled people – particularly women, migrants and carers – face social isolation.

Many of those who took part in research for the report struggle with inaccessible services, and have experienced stigma within their own communities because of their impairments.

Recent migrants and older people frequently felt their limited spoken English was a barrier to obtaining the services they needed, the report says.

Although there was little evidence of direct racism in service provision, the researchers did find examples of discrimination based on ethnicity and disability, such as care workers who refused to take their shoes off when visiting a disabled woman’s house and other such cases of a “failure to adapt working practices to cultural preferences”.

The research was carried out by Equalities National Council (ENC), a BME disabled people’s organisation, and the disability charity Scope.

Julie Jaye Charles, ENC’s chief executive, said she was not surprised that the report revealed deprivation “right across the board”, including in housing, education, employment and health, as well as a clear need for more advocacy support.

She said: “There is a huge need out there that cannot be ignored any more. There must be resources allocated to it.”

She warned that if nothing was done, there would be “a disaster” for disabled BME communities.

She said: “People are going to be dying younger, people’s health is going to be deteriorating quickly, there will be a rise in mental health difficulties, people will lack trust in government and I also think the housing needs of individuals will get worse.”

But she also said that parts of the disability movement itself were guilty of “blatant discrimination”.

She said: “BME disabled voices are not heard in the mainstream disability movement. I have always said that it needs to have a better understanding of the needs of BME disabled people and it needs to act on it. They should be fighting for us to get the resources, to turn this around.”

But she also called on the big, non-user-led disability charities to start working with smaller organisations of disabled people, particularly the few BME, user-led organisations.

She hopes eventually to see a series of social enterprise “hubs” across the country that mirror ENC’s provision of advocacy and mentoring in London, to help BME disabled people access services and improve their lives.

The report says there are an estimated one million BME disabled people in the UK, and nearly half live in households in poverty (44 per cent, compared with 32 per cent of all disabled people, and 17 per cent of non-disabled people), although the true levels of poverty are likely to be even higher once disability-related costs are taken into account.

And even though employment rates for BME disabled people are also lower, with about half of all working-age disabled adults in employment, compared with only three in ten Pakistani or Bangladeshi disabled people, BME disabled people are less likely to be receiving benefits than other disabled people.

The report contains a number of other recommendations for local and national government and service providers, including a call for more person-centred services and information in other languages than English.

It suggests that local councils run targeted information campaigns to raise awareness of services, and that they improve their knowledge of BME disabled people’s needs.

The report also calls on the government to ensure that BME disabled people’s needs and views are included in both its upcoming disability strategy and a new race equality strategy, with an implementation plan linking the two strategies, and ensure that BME disabled people are considered when assessing the equality impact of its policies.

News provided by John Pring at

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