Budget’s Equality Act decision ‘is further setback on rights’


The government’s decision not to go ahead with key new anti-discrimination laws is another serious attack on disability rights, say campaigners.

The chancellor, George Osborne, announced in his budget speech that the government would not be introducing the “costly” dual discrimination rules that were set to be introduced through Labour’s Equality Act.

The clauses would have allowed employees – such as disabled women or gay disabled men – to bring claims of direct discrimination on the basis that their employers had treated them less favourably because of a combination of two “protected characteristics”, such as disability, race, age or gender.

Osborne said the announcement was part of the government’s “Plan for Growth”, which he claimed would save £350 million through a bonfire of regulations.

A Government Equalities Office (GEO) spokesman said that not introducing dual discrimination would save businesses £3 million a year, which he claimed would have been the cost of familiarising themselves with the new law.

When asked whether the government would consider implementing the measure in the future, the GEO spokesman declined to comment.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it was concerned by the announcement and suggested it was more likely to increase costs for business.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “We think having the dual discrimination measures is actually quite practical.”

She said Osborne’s announcement did not make much sense as a cost-cutting measure as some businesses might now “have to fight two separate cases rather than one” – one for each protected characteristic – so enacting the dual discrimination measure would also “free up” the time of tribunals.

Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the announcement was “very disappointing”, and added: “Along with their proposals to further weaken the public sector specific duties, it is an indication of the government’s strong wish to weaken equality and anti-discrimination law, which threatens very bad outcomes for disabled people and comes along at the point of the worst spending cuts in the post-war period.”

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said the move was “undermining the Equality Act” and demonstrated “questionable support of disabled people in employment and in everyday life”.

As part of its Plan for Growth, the government also said it would clarify the tax and employment rights and responsibilities of disabled people and other service-users who receive direct payments.

And it pledged to improve the take-up of assisted living technology, by investing £18 million in developing new products, working with the industry to reduce prices, and helping develop a code of practice to increase confidence in the technology among disabled and older customers.

24 March 2011