In advance of the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, it is worth thinking about what more we can do to make London work better for disabled Londoners. If London Mayor Sadiq Khan really does want London to be open for all, he needs to focus more of his energies on making the city work for its disabled citizens, including the ways in which their lives are made more difficult and inconvenient by public bodies.
Research from Trust for London shows that those who are disabled in London (and across the rest of England) are more likely to be living in poverty. There are a couple of reasons for this: one is that those who are disabled face extra barriers and monetary costs; the other is that they are less likely to be in paid work. London’s disabled are being squeezed by these twin problems.
Trust for London also shows just how severe lack of income and employment can be. The employment rate for disabled Londoners stands at 46.5 per cent, which means there are around 370,000 disabled Londoners out of work. In some boroughs, only one disabled person in four has a job. There is a huge talent pipeline not being utilised. We hear a lot about the current low unemployment rate and I commend the government for the great work it has done, but disabled Londoners are still finding it far too difficult to find work.
The statistics on poverty are even more stark. The poverty rate for Londoners living in a family with a disabled adult is 34 per cent, compared to 25 per cent for other families. I have always believed work is the best route out of poverty, but people can only get into work if the necessary conditions are created. To its credit, the government has helped to considerably increase the amount of jobs in London (and the rest of the country), but clearly there is some way to go so to ensure all Londoners benefit from this.
For there to be significant progress, I strongly believe there needs to be a greater focus on apprenticeships. These provide an important route for those with disabilities to secure work. At the moment, disabled people are significantly underrepresented when it comes to apprenticeships. And it is not just they who suffer due to this disparity, because it also means businesses are missing out on a wealth of talent. Targeting support where it is needed could go some way to alleviating the shortage of skilled labour.
Housing is another issue that crops up regularly in these discussions. As chair of the London Assembly planning committee, this is an issue I am acutely aware of. There is undeniably a shortage of accessible housing in the capital. One of the things policy makers can do is increase consultation with disabled people on planning and housing, ensuring they are represented during discussions about the types of housing that will be built in their areas.
The final policy area in which there needs to be a greater focus is transport. Good accessibility is vital for getting people with mobility impairments to places of work and for reducing social isolation. One solution is to increase step-free access on public transport and ensure staff are trained to understand the needs of disabled Londoners.
But even if more suitable housing, employment and transport are secured, attitudes towards disabled people still need to change. We know that disability hate crime is on the rise. That must be stopped. There needs to be a higher level of neighbourhood policing to make disabled people feel safer and to encourage the reporting of hate crime. There should also be more done to educate young people to make them more respectful of people with disabilities.
Something we can all do is learn more about different types of disability and the impacts they have on those affected. On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities I will be attending the Dialogue in the Dark exhibition at Space, a venue in Hackney. It is a sensory exhibition set in total darkness. A visually-impaired person will be my guide through rooms filled with sounds, flavours and objects recreating different parts of London and encountered while deprived of the sense of sight.
Experiences like these can help us to overcome prejudices and stereotypes and learn how rich and complex the experiences of those with disabilities are. Often, disabled people say they only feel disadvantaged because society sees them as disadvantaged. Together we can and will ensure London works for all Londoners.
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