The Government Equalities Office has added to the confusion caused by a government minister who told MPs that disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) were not allowed to reserve jobs solely for disabled people.
Maria Eagle, an equalities minister and former minister for disabled people, told the communities and local government committee two weeks ago that it was illegal to reserve posts under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and would remain so under the equality bill.
She has now been forced to write to the committee, after it wrote to her “seeking clarification” of her comments.
During questioning from the committee about the equality bill, Eagle said that “positive action” – favouring the disabled person when faced with two equally qualified job candidates – was legal and would stay legal under the bill.
But she also said that only allowing disabled applicants to apply for a particular job was illegal and would remain so in the bill.
Reserving posts for disabled people is a widespread practice, both by DPOs and across the disability sector, and campaigners were left bemused by her comments.
A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman said: “Everybody has the right to be treated fairly and employers are not allowed to discriminate when hiring staff.
“However, there is an exemption where a particular characteristic is a requirement of the job – for example, an organisation providing counselling services for young deaf people might require its counsellors to be deaf in order to share life experiences and use British Sign Language with their clients.
“This is the case under the DDA and the equality bill will not change this. Maria Eagle has written to the select committee to make this clear.”
But the spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether Eagle was admitting she had made a mistake, or whether she stood by her evidence.
11 February 2010