Challenging times

Disabled CSP members are particularly vulnerable to service cutbacks and the wider welfare reforms, Saraka Keating as CSP’s equality officer reports

Disabled CSP members are facing a toxic cocktail of cuts to services, benefits and jobs.

That was a key message that emerged from an ‘equality symposium’ that the society’s Disabled Members’ Network hosted at the CSP’s London headquarters earlier this year.

With NHS services facing cuts and greater competition clinicians are enduring mounting pressures at work.

Though the symposium focused mainly on continuing professional development issues, appraisal and performance management, members also voiced concerns about wider equality issues affecting them at work.

Many of the cuts are targeted at people living in poverty, and at disabled people and their families. The government aims to reduce the level of public expenditure in the UK by more than £63 billion by 2015 – a reduction of almost 11 per cent.  

Those with the most severe disabilities face the combined impact of social care cuts, benefit cuts, housing cuts and regressive tax increases. Cuts in the NHS affect many groups, but disabled people with particular impairments, such as mental health problems, face significantly reduced provision.

While disabled people make up eight per cent of the population, they bear 29 per cent of the cuts, according to the Centre for Welfare Reform (www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/by-date/a-fair-society1.html).

Many will lose their jobs, homes and independence. Indeed, thousands of disabled people have failed to find another job after the Remploy factories were shut.

Workers’ protections are weakened

A campaign by sections of the media in the past few years has vilified benefit claimants and sought to divide those in work from those out of work.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported earlier this year that the UK suicide rate had climbed from 2010 to 2011 to the highest rate since 1996 (www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_295718.pdf).  

This prompted Stephen Platt, a Samaritans trustee and professor of health policy research at the University of Edinburgh, to note that suicide is a social as well as a mental health issue.

‘It is high time that national suicide prevention strategies address suicide as a health and social inequality at both national and local levels,’ he said (www.samaritans.org/news/comment-2011-ons-suicide-statistics).

Protection for those in jobs is also diminishing.

The government recently ran a ‘consultation’ on sections of the Equality Act, arguing that these placed ‘unnecessary or disproportionate burdens on business’.

An overwhelming majority of respondents supported maintaining legal protections but, despite this, the government has announced several measures that will weaken the equality infrastructure which has been built up over decades.

Protection from third party harassment has disappeared. This made an employer liable for repeated racist, sexist, homophobic or other prejudice-based harassment of staff by third parties, such as service users, customers or clients, where the employer has failed to take reasonable steps to protect them.

Equality ‘clock’ being turned back

The Public Sector Equality Duty is also under serious threat. The duty requires public authorities, including NHS organisations, to have due regard to eliminating discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) budget and staffing levels have been cut, its statutory duties have been altered and its grants programmes and helpline have closed.

Civil society organisations working to promote equality and support victims of discrimination at local level are struggling to survive and maintain their services because of the withdrawal of local authority funding, the loss of EHRC grant funding, and cuts to legal aid.

The cumulative impact of these changes threatens to turn the clock back on equality, particularly for those groups such as black and minority ethnic, women and disabled people who are already suffering disproportionately as a result of austerity and public sector cuts.

The NHS Staff Survey is an important indicator of how staff feel in a range of key areas including health, wellbeing, and career opportunities.

The 2012 results were recently released, containing results from 98,744 respondents, and included the following findings:

  • 52 per cent of disabled staff said they had felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in the preceding 12 months, compared with 35per cent of non-disabled staff
  • 44 per cent of lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) staff said they had felt unwell in the same period, compared with 38 per cent of heterosexual staff
  • 35 per cent of disabled staff said they had personally experienced harassment, bullying or abuse at work from patients, service-users or other members of the public, compared with 28 per cent of non-disabled staff
  • 34 per cent of LGB staff had experienced harassment compared with 28 per cent of heterosexual staff
  • 12 per cent of all staff had had no equality and diversity training, and a further 30 per cent had been on acourse more than 12 months ago. fl


Top Tips for overcoming barriers for disabled people at work

  • Speak to your CSP steward or call the CSP enquiry handling unit if cuts or restructuring are affecting your workplace
  • Join in any workplace or local campaigns to protect services from closure or unnecessary competition. NHS Employers are committed to assess the equality impact of any change in service provision
  • Remember that there are many good equality provisions both in legislation and in national and local agreements that you can use to protect against discrimination or unfair treatment
  • If you have a CSP steward in your workplace, they will be able to advise and assist on a wide range of employment and equality issues
  • Join the CSP equality and diversity networks for information and peer support. We have dedicated networks for disabled members, black and minority ethnic members and lesbian, gay or bisexual and transgendered members.
Author
Saraka Keating

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