Skip to content or view screen version

Activist´s Struggle against Disability Discrimination

John Wilson | 02.04.2004 09:05 | Health | Repression | Social Struggles | London

One in seven of the UK's workforce are affected by disability. The current law and how it is applied is mostly employer - friendly. If you are disabled and want to work, you have to keep your mouth shut for fear of a life in poverty.

I am not right wing or anything, but I am English and feel part of our country. Still, I had to move abroad for good because I was prevented from working in England. Being abroad, I can speak out now without fear of repercussions.
I have been a care assistant for many years, and my last employment in England was with the British Home and Hospital in Streatham, where I started in 1996 on full time day duty. In 1998, I was diagnosed with bone cancer and got an artificial shoulder inserted. Whilst being off sick for rehabilitation, my employment was terminated because of my illness in May 1998.
Following full-time re-employment by the British Home in January 1999 I worked without a single shift off sick because of my shoulder on night duty for 2 1/2 years. In August 2001, however, I wrote a letter acting as an employee representative for the nurses of BHHI (also please check Croydon Advertiser article about withholdeing pay from the nurses, web address: , type "BHHI" into search facility ). This cost me the job I loved. My MP, Geraint Davies, wrote to my employer to get me re-instated, to no avail. I was dismissed because of my shoulder and the right to a proper appeal was denied to me by the Matron stating straight away at the beginning of the appeal hearing that she was not going to re-engage me.
Meanwhile, I tried everything under the sun to secure another employment. I applied to countless nursing homes and other workplaces in South London and beyond. I was unsuccessful, because the minute I mentioned that I had been dismissed because of my shoulder, I did not get the job.
I continued with the Employment Tribunal (put in after my dismissal), which took place in February 2003. This was because I could not get a job elsewhere, therefore I pleaded not for compensation, but merely to be re-engaged in my job at BHHI. My wife represented me. Against expensive solicitors of the employers my wife and I were powerless. It was contended by the Tribunal that I was disabled according to the DDA, and the employer was under no obligation to leave me on the staff because due to my shoulder I was a potential Health and Safety risk (after 2 1/2 years working without any accidents, incidences or sickness!) The case, however, was brought over credibly in the two day hearing, and I was therefore not awarded costs by the Tribunal.
Following the Tribunal I was at the age of 33 facing a life on the dole.
I did want to work legally and the system prevented me to get employment. I loved my caring job. I felt depressed and suicidal. Therefore, my wife's family settled us in Germany to live and find work there. Because the laws there are more in line with the European recommendations, I was given an independent health assessment by the Government body paid for by the state. I am working on the community now.
Backed by family, I have taken a law firm in Strasbourg and put in a case re. violation of the Human Rights as a disabled British citizen and also filed a petition with the European Parliament re. possible breaches of European law.
Ideally, I ought to forget everything. I was lucky to have an option in this situation that not many disabled physically working people have in the UK. We disabled are being prevented from working because of the current legislation and how it is applied.

When the doctors examined me for the independent health assessment in Germany, they were extremely impressed with the latest technology artificial shoulder that I had had implanted on the NHS, and the excellent workmanship of the English doctors. But what is the point of this outstanding progress in medicine, and much better recovery and long term prognosis for conditions like cancer, if the fair chances of being integrated back into legal work in Britain are virtually zero?

John Wilson
- e-mail: