People in the UK are almost twice as likely to say they have faced disability discrimination than people from some other European countries, exclusive analysis for BuzzFeed News has revealed.
Statistics analysed by the charity Scope show that 4.4% of people surveyed in the UK said they had experienced disability-related discrimination or harassment in the last year – almost double the average of 2.6% from 10 other European countries.
The analysis is of 2015 European Commission Eurobarometer figures that are the most recent Europe-wide survey about disability discrimination. Scope compared UK responses with those from 10 other major European countries that it considered to be socially and demographically similar to the UK. The results show the UK scored the highest of any of the countries for reports of disability discrimination, and far higher than countries such as the Republic of Ireland (2.2%) and Spain (1.3%).
France had the second-highest percentage of people who said they had experienced disability-related discrimination or harassment, at 3.8%.
Meanwhile, over half of Brits (56.1%), the second-highest percentage, said they thought disability discrimination was “widespread” in their country, compared with an average of 49% across the other European countries. Britain scored the second-highest on this measure, after France where 68.9% of those asked felt that discrimination was widespread.
In total, 11,423 people across the 11 countries were surveyed, including 1,306 from the UK. Scope's analysis compared UK responses to those from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Ireland, Finland, Cyprus and Austria.
James Taylor, head of policy, campaigns, and public affairs at Scope, said the figures show life for disabled people "is much tougher than it needs to be".
"These figures highlight that other countries are further ahead in addressing disability discrimination than in the UK and we need to look at everything from representation in public life to welfare support and attitudes to understand why," he told BuzzFeed News.
“Disability discrimination should have no place in society. Our attitudes towards disability should be leading the way, not lagging behind. In 2017, disabled people are still discriminated against at work, at school, and in everyday life. From name-calling on our streets to being passed over for a promotion, discrimination takes many forms and needs to be tackled."
He said the government should "step up to the plate and set out how it intends to tackle what it calls the ‘burning injustice’ of disability discrimination".
Almost two-thirds of people from the UK also said they did not think enough was being done to promote diversity in their workplace, when thinking about disability in particular.
Separate figures released to BuzzFeed News from the UK charity Citizens Advice show it has helped 13,000 people with disability discrimination problems over the past three years, and that number is increasing.
In 2016/17 Citizens Advice helped 4,900 people with disability discrimination problems, up from 4,700 in 2015/16 and 3,800 in 2014/15.
BuzzFeed News asked people to share their stories of disability discrimination at work. Sara, who has muscular dystrophy, said that when she was at college 15 years ago, she applied to work at a well-known music store working on the tills but was turned away.
"During the interview they mentioned stacking shelves, and I said that I could do that but asked if a trolley was available as I couldn't carry heavy things or crouch down to fill low shelves," she said.
"I went home having thought the interview went well, but got a call saying I was perfect for the job but I would be a liability due to my disability, so they couldn't offer it to me. I was shocked. If only I knew about discrimination laws back then."
Alison, who has multiple sclerosis that left her partially sighted with no peripheral vision, said she was told by a potential employer that they didn't want to jeopardise her health by offering her the job as they were worried about her ability to see a computer, "which was not a problem at all", she said.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour MP for Battersea, told BuzzFeed News she was unsurprised by the Scope figures, given that "the last seven years [of] policies that the government has introduced have disproportionately hit disabled people the hardest – particularly when you look at social security benefits." She said some media, "with the help of the government", had painted a picture of disabled people "as scroungers just wanting to sponge off the state".
De Cordova, who is registered blind, highlighted the "significant" employment gap between disabled and nondisabled people. "It's not because we don't want to be in work, and it's not because people can't work, it's [about] giving people those opportunities to work and looking at the barriers," she said.
She said there were "staggering" negative perceptions and attitudes around disability that prevented employers hiring disabled people and needed to be addressed.
"I think it's quite worrying – you'd think, given the era we're living in, people's attitudes to disability might actually be better," she said.
A spokesperson for the government said the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany, and that the UK has some of the strongest equality legislation in the world.
“It’s completely unacceptable that disabled people still experience discrimination of any kind," they said. "We have a proud record in supporting disabled people, including through the landmark Disability Discrimination Act and the Equality Act.
“But we know there’s more to do to build on our progress and to transform these negative attitudes. That’s why we are working with employers through our Disability Confident scheme, and we’ve appointed disability champions to lead industries in meeting the needs of disabled consumers.”
Sara Spary is a consumer business correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Sara Spary at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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