Britain's disabled people have many reasonable fears about a poorly managed exit from the European Union.Roger Blackwell (Flikr)

The lives of disabled people are important. You would have thought that this goes without saying, yet last month, the government revealed that it has barely considered the impact of a no-deal Brexit on disabled people. In Parliament, Caroline Dinenage, the care minister, admitted that “no formal impact assessment has been conducted by the department of the effect on disabled people of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a deal.” In other words, it has become politically acceptable to discuss a no-deal Brexit without any review into whether leaving without an agreement might jeopardise the livelihoods – and even lives – of disabled Britons. 

I feel it is my duty to call out this extreme lack of consideration, one which may actually put the lives of our students at risk.

Britain's disabled people have many reasonable fears about a poorly managed exit from the European Union. A no-deal Brexit might result in a lack of both medical supplies and the health workers who form a vital part of provision for disabled people. Consequently, the government has rightfully been accused of having “ignored” disabled people. Marsha de Cordova, the shadow minister for disabled people, noted that “many disabled people face the prospect of losing out on vital medicines, funding and support as a result of a catastrophic no-deal Brexit”, arguing that the government “is shamefully treating disabled people as collateral damage to the chaos it has created.”

This should be a national scandal. Instead, it has become politically acceptable to consider the lives of the disabled community in this country to be a worthy sacrifice to the Brexit altar. A failure to properly prepare for the potential consequences of Brexit is a direct threat to disabled people, one which cannot be underestimated. 

As the Disabled Students’ Officer of this University, I feel it is my duty to call out this extreme lack of consideration, one which may actually put the lives of our students at risk. I wish this was an exaggeration, but even the government refuses to guarantee that it is not.

The lives and well-being of students at this University will indeed be at risk if they go to the pharmacy post-Brexit only to find that their prescription isn’t there. As CUSU Disabled Students’ Officer, I know that many students, for example, take antidepressants and antipsychotic medication, renowned for having severe withdrawal effects when stopped suddenly. Others need to take painkillers for pain management purposes, without which they will be unable to function effectively. How long are we willing to let people suffer like this in the name of the Great Brexit Cause?

It is not politically acceptable to allow disabled people to suffer and die without consideration.

There are also the less extreme but still significantly life altering consequences of a no-deal Brexit. For example, the loss of the European Social Fund could be “disastrous” for disadvantaged groups, including, but not limited to, Britain’s disabled people. For example, the fund currently gives £500m per year to organisations in the UK that provide employment and training support for those who are often neglected by mainstream providers.

It is important to note that for disabled people, this is by no means a new attitude towards their lives. The Conservative Party has spent several years sacrificing British disabled people at the foot of another altar – austerity. The relationship between the benefits system, the Department for Work and Pensions, and disabled people has been a consistently toxic and frightening one under the Conservative government.

For example, earlier this year, Stephen Smith – a 64 year old man with multiple debilitating illnesses – was denied benefits and deemed fit for work, despite the fact that he could barely walk. His employment support allowance (ESA) payments were stopped, and instead he was told to sign on to receive a £67 a week jobseeker’s allowance, visit the jobcentre once a week and prove he was looking for work. Stephen passed away in April, and he is just one example of many disabled people who have been targeted and affected by the austerity dogma.


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Artist and DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) activist, Vince Laws, recently campaigned at the Cambridge Junction about the issue of DWP deaths in Cambridge, displaying shrouds of disabled people whose deaths are related with the department. It is unsurprising that the Government is just as willing to harm disabled people through their current ideological project – Brexit.

Regardless of your views on the European Union, it is not politically acceptable to allow disabled people to suffer and die without consideration, even if in search of some mythical greater good. It is a disgrace to consider the country ‘prepared’ for a no-deal Brexit without even having considered the lives of some of its most at-risk people. 

Despite the cries of our new Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his supporters, who are willing to advocate for a no-deal Brexit despite the obvious risks to disabled people, we must fight for the lives of all of us when we consider the future of our country and the manner in which we aim to get there. We must rethink what is currently on the table, with the lives of disabled people at the centre of our planning.

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