Later this week the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will rule whether obesity is a disability in its own right. Up to now, only conditions associated with obesity – not obesity in its own right – have been considered disabilities.
158kg Karsten Kaltoft was fired from his job as a childminder by his local authority in Denmark because he was unable to bend over to do his shoelaces. Denmark’s courts found in the local authority’s favour but he pursued it to the highest court in Europe. There is a significant chance it will find in his favour, which will in turn change disability law in the UK.
At present, if you’re overweight you cannot be classed as disabled in your own right. Many obese people have associated problems such as bad knees, bad hips, heart problems and diabetes. Though not considered disabled because of your weight you would be – for example due to being unable to get around, or due to your diabetes.
If the ECJ finds in Kaltoft’s favour then anything up to 40% of the UK population could be considered disabled – almost half of the UK population have weight problems.
Fear among governments
Under current disability law, if you have to have modifications to your workplace due to your disability then employers and government bodies have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to allow you to function such as mobility aids and stairlifts. If you have mobility issues due to your weight you can ask them and they will generally have to respond.
If the law changes then almost half the UK population might be able to claim disability benefits, which would send the creaking welfare benefit budget through the roof!
The good side
Many people who are labelled ‘fat’ are openly treated badly. You can in theory be sacked because of your weight. Under disability law this will not be allowed. Discriminating against someone due to their weight would be illegal, and those with weight problems could call for help from the police under disability hate crime legislation. This would encourage a fairer society.
The other side of the coin is that governments would have to take obesity very seriously. It is cheaper to prevent health problems than to cure them. There may well be some vigour in governments’ attitudes to sugary and fatty fast foods. Could the ECJ ruling encourage governments to make people live healthier lifestyles to save on health and welfare costs?