Organisations that represent disabled people from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities face blatant and widespread discrimination at the hands of local and national government, according to a leading campaigner.
Julie Jaye Charles, chief executive of Equalities National Council (ENC), said she believed the discrimination showed itself through the failure of local and central government to fund organisations like hers.
She said: “There is a discriminatory imbalance of power. Discrimination we know is not about calling each other names.
“If you feel you are being discriminated against and you see a community is being discriminated against and your organisation is being discriminated against, it’s racism, it’s discrimination, full stop.
“I will shout to the rooftops about that, because it’s unfair.”
She said she believed that at least 60 small BME disabled people’s organisations had been forced to close because of funding cuts, while she could name only a couple of small, local groups that were still operating: the Disabled Asian Women’s Network and Waltham Forest Black People’s Mental Health Association.
She spoke out this week as a House of Lords event – hosted by Baroness Uddin and organised by ENC and the charity Include Me TOO – was set to highlight the problem.
Lord [Chris] Holmes, the disabled Tory peer and disability commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was due to speak at last night’s (20 July) event.
Jaye Charles said she hoped the meeting would provide impetus to set up an all-party parliamentary group on BME disabled people.
She said it was time to have the conversation about why BME organisations were struggling for funding, and she said she was “appalled” at what she saw as “openly discrimintory practices”.
She said: “It is time for us to have an open discussion on why BME organisations are closing rapidly up and down the country in England and Wales, due to lack of recognition and lack of power to continue to fight their cause for the most vulnerable they serve.”
Parmi Dheensa, chief executive of Include Me TOO, said that “substantial resources” had been invested in improving services and support for disabled children and young people and their families.
But she said the needs of BME disabled children, young people and families had been “overlooked”, which further increased the difficulties they faced.
Jaye Charles pointed to statistics from 2011 which showed there were nearly 900,000 BME disabled people in England, a figure she believes is certain to be an under-estimate, while in her own local authority, Newham, there were nearly 26,000.
ENC supports disabled people across housing, employment, further education, social security, health and social care and immigration.
They come to ENC, she said, because they don’t have the funding to access legal support and yet cannot afford to feed their families.
Last year, after she won a lifetime achievement award for her work with disabled people from BME communities – she set up ENC and first ran it from her front room in 1997, but she hasn’t been paid for her work since 2007 – she said she hoped to set up a food bank just for disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.
ENC has been in talks with the food poverty charity The Trussell Trust, and Jaye Charles said she will soon be able to launch the service.
Her organisation still receives regular referrals from well-funded organisations that rely on its expertise with BME disabled people, she said, even though ENC has no council funding itself.
ENC has just won a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contract to help employment and support allowance claimants who are not working well with their Jobcentre Plus offices – which will see them using DWP’s Flexible Support Fund – into jobs through the Work Programme.
Jaye Charles said DWP has promised that the project will be rolled out across the country if it proves successful.