Latest research report explores public attitudes to disabled people

28 February 2011

A couple of weeks ago, the Office for Disability Issues published ‘Public perceptions of disabled people’ looking at attitudes towards disabled people as revealed in the 2009 British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS).

It measures how much prejudice there is in Great Britain towards disabled people and examines how attitudes have changed between 2005 and 2009. Unfortunately, it made for some disturbing reading.

The research showed that even though attitudes toward disabled people have improved on the whole, prejudice is still a worrying issue especially towards people with learning disabilities or mental health problems.

The report suggests that people are more comfortable interacting with people with physical or sensory impairments in social situations than they are interacting with individuals with learning disabilities or mental health conditions, many also struggle in situations where disabled people are in positions of authority. This may reflect a false belief that a disabled boss will be less effective than a non-disabled boss.

It is very worrying that stigma and discrimination remain so strong. Such prejudice is one of the biggest barriers to employment for people with a learning disability or mental health problems. Employers are often reluctant to take on someone with a learning disability or a mental health problem, possibly because they do not know enough about the benefits of employing them or they do not know how to get the right support to make it work.

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it incumbent on employers not to discriminate against people with disabilities and to allow for flexible working arrangements, but it is important any action taken by employers is not simply tokenistic box ticking. They will need appropriate support and training to make this a reality.

If we are to achieve a real change in attitude towards people with mental health problems and people with learning disabilities, the Government will need substantially to increase the amount it is willing to invest in any initiative designed to tackle stigma and discrimination.

This has been promised by the coalition’s recent Mental Health Strategy – research such as this shows it is essential that they deliver on this. This work needs to go well beyond social marketing and include practical measures to empower both people with disabilities and employers who wish to move forwards. Rest assured that we will be holding them to account every step of the way.