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Monday, 30 March

Duncan's Disabled - Peers Condemn Government

Following the convulsion of the departure of Iain Duncan Smith at the DWP, a House of Lords Select Committee report has rubbed more salt into the wounds

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability investigating the Act's impact on disabled people has concluded that the government is failing in its duty of care to disabled people.

Its scathing findings say there is a comprehensive disregard that is endemic from taxi drivers refusing to take disabled people, to what it terms ‘disgraceful accessibility at sports grounds, pubs and clubs failing to provide disabled toilets’. Entitled The Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people, it says ‘practice in all areas must be improved’.

There are over 11 million disabled people in the UK and the number grows year by year and the report apportions blame and responsibility across the board – ‘it is the task of all of us to remove the barriers that prevent some from participating fully and equally, in society’.

 

Legislative failure

The Equality Act 2010 is the legislative framework and the remit of the committee was to examine whether it adequately supports the ‘fight’ against disability discrimination.

In its questioning of witnesses for the report, the peers found a near-universal view that the legislation was failing to deliver. ‘Our witnesses, who included wheelchair users, blind and deaf people and some with learning difficulties, were almost unanimous in believing that it was a mistake to have attempted to deal with discrimination on grounds of disability, sex, race and other protected characteristics in a single Equality Act. Life, they told us, had been easier with a dedicated Disability Discrimination Act and with a single Disability Rights Commission, rather than a Commission covering all inequalities and human rights.’

However, the peers concluded that it would now be impractical to try to reverse this.

The committee’s Chair, Baroness Deech, stated it was the opinion of all the peers that disabled people were being let down across the 'whole spectrum of life'. They had found that access to public buildings remained an unnecessary challenge to disabled people and that public authorities easily side-stepped their legal obligations to disabled people and that recent changes in the courts had led to disabled people finding it harder to fight discrimination.

 

Problems everywhere for disabled

“When it comes to the law requiring reasonable adjustments to prevent discrimination, we found that there are problems in almost every part of society, from disabled toilets in restaurants being used for storage, to schools refusing interpreters for deaf parents, to reasonable adjustments simply not being made,” observed Baroness Deech. “In the field of transport alone, we heard of an urgent need to meet disabled people’s requirements – whether it’s training for staff or implementing improvements to trains and buses and we’re calling for all new rail infrastructure to incorporate step-free access in its design from the outset.”

She believed the government bears the “ultimate responsibility” for enabling disabled people to participate in society on equal terms had not only dragged its heels in bringing long standing provisions of the Act into force “but has in fact repealed some provisions which had protected disabled people. Intended to reduce the regulatory burden on business, the reality has been an increase in the burden on disabled people.”

As things stood now Baroness Deech argued that “disabled people are an afterthought”.

 

Question of enforcement

The committee found that many of the actions that needed to be taken were not requiring new legislation but either a greater enforcement or awareness by businesses and organisations.

It was incredulous, for example that the new Elizabeth Line did not have step-free access in all its stations but had general recommendations:

 

Transport

The government should bring into force ‘immediately’ provisions in the Act obliging taxi drivers to take passengers with wheelchairs.

In cases where taxi drivers fail to comply with the Act local authorities should withhold the licences of drivers.

All new rail infrastructure must build into its design step-free access, retrofitting of stock with audio/visual annunciators must be prioritised, training for all rail, bus and coach staff ‘must be made a legal requirement’.

 

Sports grounds

These have been described as “disgraceful” by the Minster for Disabled, Justin Tomlinson and the committee rather vaguely said ‘new people and new measures were needed’.

Ministers should report on the progress made on stadia, following the Premier League’s promise to upgrade all their stadia by August 2017.

 

Housing and public spaces

Many restaurants, pubs and clubs were difficult to access with many not providing basic facilities such as a disabled toilet.

Local authorities should be allowed to refuse to grant or renew these premises' licences until they make the necessary changes.

The design of new buildings is another area where local authorities could require new buildings to be wheelchair accessible or adaptable, simply by revising their planning policies.

 

Communications

Communications is an area where disabled people were still being failed. ‘We recommend that all government departments, local authorities and public bodies review how they communicate with disabled people and that disabled people must be involved in this process.’

 

The law and enforcement

Developments in recent years have made fighting discrimination more difficult for disabled people.

‘New tribunal fees, less access to legal aid and procedural changes have combined to create barriers to the effective enforcement of disabled people’s rights.’

Picture: Access to public spaces can be difficult for the disabled even if the will is there as this image of Union Chapel in North London shows

Article written by Mike Gannon

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