Summary of EHRC Findings

The Equality and Human Rights Commission produced a report[1] in 2019 looking at state of Human Rights in the UK in 2018. The report was highly damning of the government's record on Human Rights, particularly in respect of disabled people.

"Changes to the welfare system since 2010 have made life harder for those in poverty, and this disproportionately affects a large number of disabled people, women, and people from ethnic minorities. Child poverty and homelessness have also continued to rise"

The commission noted that since 2015 access to justice has been severely curtailed due to cuts to legal aid and the disastrous impact of employment tribunal fees blocking people's right to bring to justice employers who have flouted the law.

Some key findings by EHRC on Disability Rights:

  • Poverty is particularly prevalent among disabled people
  • In line with the EHRC 2015 report, UK-wide reforms to welfare and tax since 2010 continue to have a disproportionate impact on the poorest in society
  • These reforms are pulling more people into poverty, particularly disabled people
  • Homelessness is also on the rise, putting more people in a precarious position and particularly affecting people from ethnic minorities, disabled people and other at-risk groups
  • Disabled people are not enjoying the progress experienced by other groups. Their right to an inclusive education is not being fulfilled – in fact, the proportion of disabled children at special rather than mainstream schools has increased in England and Wales
  • The disability pay gap persists, with disabled people earning less per hour on average than non-disabled people
  • Disabled people are more likely to be in low-pay occupations and this likelihood has increased
  • Disabled people are also more likely to be in poverty
  • Those who can’t work rely on an increasingly restricted welfare regime that is projected to lower their living standards even further
  • They also face poorer health and lack of access to suitable housing

"There should be an acute focus on improving life in Britain for disabled people. Government should remove its reservations to Article 24, the right to inclusive education, of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UK Government should also regularly report on progress in meeting its commitment to get one million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years, and support flexible and part-time working to help close the employment and pay gap. We want to see more disabled people participating in public and civic life, and to this end political parties should work with governments to ensure funding for disabled candidates’ additional costs related to their impairment."

The overall finding of the EHRC report was that Disabled people falling further behind in all areas such as work, education, housing and poverty levels.


The UN has voiced concerns about the education of disabled children in the UK. In 2017, it reviewed the UK’s progress against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)[1]. It expressed objections to the UK’s growing reliance on special schools (this is more of an issue in England than elsewhere) and claimed that the education system is not yet equipped to deliver high-quality, inclusive education in mainstream settings. According to the UN, the UK should commit to ensuring all disabled children receive an inclusive education.

There are also concerns about the legal framework surrounding disabled children’s rights to redress in the education system. Tribunals in England, Scotland and Wales do not currently have the power to award financial compensation when they make a finding of disability discrimination in schools (unlike cases involving race discrimination, for example). The UN has said that the UK should make sure that tribunals have powers to grant appropriate legal remedies in cases of disability discrimination and/or harassment against schoolchildren, including the power to award compensation.

In 2016/17, 67.6% of girls and 60.3% of boys attained grades 9–4 in English and Mathematics. The difference was very large between pupils with Special Education Needs (SEN), 25.0% of whom attained these grades, compared with those without SEN (70.4%). These figures clearly indicate the government is failing in meeting the education needs of SEN children [2].


Since 2010 there has been an increase in the proportion of disabled people inlow-pay occupations. Disabled people are more likely than non-disabledpeople to be in low-pay occupations [1].

While rates of employment of disabled people have improved, the employment rate for non-disabled people aged 16–64 (81.1%) was still significantly higher than for disabled people aged 16–64 (50.7%) in January to March 2018 (ONS, 2018b), although the disability gap has narrowed from 32.7 percentage points in January to March 2015 to 30.3 percentage points in January to March 2018.21 Disabled people are more likely to be economically inactive than non-disabled people; in the same period 3.3 million disabled people aged 16–64 were economically inactive. This meant that 44.2% of disabled people of working age were neither in work, nor looking for work, compared with only 15.9% of non-disabled people. Disabled people of working age were also more likely than non-disabled people to be unemployed (9.1%, compared with 3.6%), although the disability gap has narrowed from 6.2 percentage points in January to March 2015 to 5.6 percentage points in January to March 2018 (ONS, 2018b). The employment rate gap between disabled and non-disabled people is particularly wide for those aged 50–64 (Powell, 2018). Employment rates for disabled people also vary considerably according to the type of impairment; in March 2018, less than a quarter of people with learning difficulties, a speech impediment or mental health conditions were in employment (Powell, 2018) [2].

Living Standards

The EHRC report found disabled people, women, and many ethnic minorities are more likely to live in poverty or to experience severe material deprivation. UK-wide reforms to social security and taxes since 2010 are having a disproportionately negative impact on the poorest in society and are particularly affecting women, disabled people, ethnic minorities and lone parents with benefit sanctionsapplied inconsistently and disproportionately impact disabled people [1].

Bedroom Tax introduced under the Tory / Lib Dem coaltion had a disproportinate impact on the disabled as the spare room was often needed to contain specialist equipment. The legislation was ruled illegal as the court found that imposing the cap on people who had an obvious medical need for an extra bedroom was unlawful discrimination. However this was not before many disabled people had suffered severe hardship due to the legislation [2].

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities expressed in 2017 concern about ‘policies and measures that affect the ability to live independently in the community, such as the reduction in social protection schemes related to housing, household income and budgets for independent living, as well as the closure of the Independent Living Fund’ in England [3].

EHRC found that disabled people across Britain are demoralised and frustrated by the housing system, reporting a severe shortage of accessible houses across all tenures. Disabled people can experience serious deterioration in their mental wellbeing due to living in unsuitable accommodation. There is a chronic shortage of accessible homes, as local authorities are not building enough to meet increasing demand. Installing home adaptations involves unacceptable bureaucracy and delay and disabled people are often left waiting for long periods of time, even for minor adaptations. Disabled people are also not getting the support that they need to live independently as the provision of advice, support and advocacy is patchy and people report that they have nowhere to turn when their housing is unsuitable [4].


EHRC 2018 Report

EHRC analysis of changes to taxes, benefits, tax credits and Universal Credit since 2010 found that by the 2021/22 tax year, the largest impacts will be felt by those with lower incomes and that the changes will have a disproportionately negative impact on several protected groups. Negative impacts are particularly large for households with more disabled members, and more severely disabled individuals, as well as for lone parents on low incomes. For households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child, average annual cash losses are just over £6,500 – over 13% of average net income (Portes and Reed, 2018) [1].

Analyses of Department for Work and Pensions data show that some groups of claimants are more likely to be sanctioned than others. In 2014, the sanctioning rate for self-declared disabled Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants was 26%–28% higher than for non-disabled claimants [2].

Several studies indicate that sanctions may not have been effective at encouraging people into work. Research showed as more disabled people were sanctioned, there was a corresponding increase in the number of disabled people not in work (Reeves, 2017). Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who were sanctioned were less likely to gain employment in later months, whereas for JSA claimants the likelihood of gaining employment increased (National Audit Office, 2016a).50 The UK Government’s policy to intensify the use of sanctions and introduce harsher penalties has been largely ineffective at moving people from JSA into sustainable employment (Taulbut et al., 2018). Benefit sanctions had no tangible positive effects in moving disabled people closer to paid work and worsened many disabled people’s illnesses and impairments, particularly mental health conditions (Dwyer et al., 2018) [3].

In 2015/16 disabled adults (25.5%) were more likely than non-disabled adults (17.9%) to be living in poverty. Those with mental health conditions (35.6%) and social and behavioural (37.6%) impairments were around twice as likely to be living in poverty as non-disabled adults. For people with mental health conditions, this reduced by 5.7 percentage points between 2013/14 and 2015/16. The proportion of disabled people living in poverty was greater in Wales (32.1%) than England (25.1%) or Scotland (24.3%). Disabled people (36.8%) were nearly three times as likely to experience severe material deprivation as non-disabled people (13.5%), but around half of people with impairments related to memory (51.0%), mental health conditions (48.4%), learning, understanding or concentration (47.8%), or social and behavioural impairments (47.4%) experienced severe material deprivation [4].

A survey of Trussell Trust food bank users found that certain groups may be more affected than others by food poverty. Of households with a disabled person 49% were likely to use food banks. One-third of food bank clients were awaiting a benefit payment (Loopstra and Lalor, 2017) [5].

Access to Transport

Transport presents one of the greatest challenges to disabled people; not only those with mobility impairments, but those with vision and hearing impairments, and mental health conditions, can experience barriers to accessing transport (House of Lords, 2016) [1].

Access to transport services is in danger of becoming more restricted for some users, due to reduced bus services and inconsistency in government efforts to ensure access to transport for disabled users [2].