Equality watchdog ignored calls to assess impact of cuts on disabled people


theweeksubThe equality watchdog has ignored repeated requests from its own disability committee to investigate the combined impact of the government’s cuts to support and services on disabled people, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal.

The refusal of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to act emerged in the week that it decided to scrap the disability committee, ignoring the advice of an independent review.

DNS understands that EHRC – the organisation charged with protecting, enforcing and promoting equality for disabled people – has failed to act for at least 18 months on calls from its statutory disability committee to assess the impact of coalition cuts and other policies.

Sir Bert Massie, who chaired the Disability Rights Commission and is a former EHRC commissioner, said: “We need evidence and that is what the equality commission is there for. If it is not doing things like this, what is it there for?

“This would be a very valuable exercise. It could be that I am wrong and these cuts are having a positive impact on disabled people, but we should have the evidence. I don’t believe they are, I think they are negative, but let’s prove that.”

Mike Smith, who chaired the committee until last December, said he remembered carrying out preparatory work for an assessment.

He said: “We were planning a piece of work for good reason. It is not clear to me why the commission wouldn’t do it.”

Disabled activists have been pleading with the government since at least 2011 to carry out an assessment of the cumulative impact of all of the cuts to disability benefits and services, and other disability-related policies.

The Pat’s Petition campaign, led by Pat Onions, drew nearly 63,000 signatures before it closed last November, while the WOW petition, which is also seeking a cumulative impact assessment (CIA), and still has five months left to run, has secured nearly 50,000.

Onions demanded to know why the EHRC had ignored the committee’s call for an assessment.

She said: “We understand that this committee called for [this]18 months ago, and yet we are only just hearing of this now. We want to know why their request has been ignored.

“Pat’s Petition completely supports the call of the disability committee at the EHRC… and can’t believe that this committee is to be abolished at the present time when disabled people have never needed protection more.”

Onions said: “At Pat’s Petition we believe it is irresponsible to conduct any enormous experiment without attempting to predict or measure the effects.

“It wouldn’t be allowed in any kind of building project, so why is it acceptable to experiment on disabled people without checking for safety?”

Agnes Fletcher, who carried out the independent review of the disability committee, told DNS there were “very significant changes to policy underway, including in education, employment, social security, social care and housing”, and that these changes “will have a major, cumulative impact on many disabled people in the next few years”.

She said that it was “vital” that the committee was allowed to monitor this impact and develop a strategy for the commission to respond to the changes.

She added: “This is something that the committee has asked, and is well-placed, to do.”

An EHRC spokesman claimed that it was not the commission’s role to carry out such a piece of work, but instead that it had to use its powers to ensure the government does so, “and, where appropriate, to undertake appropriate legal action to support cases that address specific areas of discrimination in relation to this”.

18 July 2013