student life

Are the new cuts to disabled students unfair?

The government has announced that from September 2014, funding for students who are over the age of 18 will be cut by a draconian 17.5 per cent.

The government has announced that from September 2014, funding for students who are over the age of 18 will be cut by a draconian 17.5 per cent. The cuts will affect all students, including disabled students and those with learning difficulties who are trying to work hard for a brighter future.


Over the past couple of weeks there have been various demonstrations of outrage across the country aimed at these government proposals. There have been souring complaints, overall alleging that the government is discriminating disabled students in particular.

James Kewin, member of Sixth Form Colleges Association, commented on the issue and stated: “We understand that there is a need to address the hole in the public finances, but this should not be achieved by reducing the funding available to some of the most vulnerable young people in our education system.”

The Equality Act 2010 was put in place to protect a persons’ ‘protected characteristics’, which legally cannot be unfairly discriminated against. In short, ‘protected characteristics’ include a person’s age, sexuality, disability, gender, race and religion. These characteristics of an individual cannot be discriminated against without being objectively justified and without such justification this type is called ‘indirect discrimination’.

What the law says

Unfortunately, when applying the Equality Act 2010 and referring to the literature ‘What is the Equality Act and who does it apply to?’  (Published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission) to the situation at hand, it does appear that disabled students are being ‘lawfully discriminated against’. Within the EHRC’s literature, it states that unlawful discrimination is prohibited conduct.

However, it also states that: “The law protects against discrimination. Treating a person worse than someone else because of a protected characteristic (known as direct discrimination” (EHRC). Disabled students are not being treated worse than a non-disabled student because both groups are receiving the same treatment by the government; both are being equally affected by the cuts financially speaking.

EHRC goes on to say that “putting in place a rule or way of doing things that has a worse impact on someone with a protected characteristic than someone without one, when this cannot be objectively justified (known as indirect discrimination).” It is suggestible that disabled students who are facing these cuts will be worse off than students that are not disabled.

However, on the preface of the implications, the government’s potential argument to show objective justification for discrimination could be that both groups will face the same cuts, suffer the same consequences and that the cuts are indeed necessary to fill the hole in the public purse.

Are they right?

It can also be argued that by saying that a disabled person has less prospects of gaining employment is discrimination in itself and that the Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from being discriminated against due to their disability when applying for a job. The government can also defend itself by stating that there are fair provisions already in place and that disabled individuals will not be ‘worse off’ than a non-disabled student when pursuing employment.

Finally, EHRC says that “treating a disabled person unfavorably because of something connected with their disability when this cannot be justified.” Again, the argument would most likely be that the government is treating both disabled and non-disabled students in the same manner and that ‘protected characteristics’ are not being discriminated against because both are being treated equally. Therefore there isn’t a substantial claim for discrimination arising from disability.

After analysing the claim that disabled students are being unlawfully discriminated against by the cuts, unfortunately, it does appear that the government is well within the remit of the law to make them, even though they will certainly effect the most vulnerable.

It is agreeable that these cuts and their implications are inhumane. However after analysis, ironically the proposed cuts certainly do appear to comply with all human rights legislation and the Equality Act 2010.

What do you think of these cuts? Have your say in the comments section below.