Government promises to tackle pre-employment discrimination


The government has promised to tackle the problem of employers who use questionnaires to discriminate against job applicants with hidden impairments.
Members of the committee of MPs debating the equality bill had called for an amendment to outlaw the practice of asking applicants whether they were disabled.
Several charities, including Rethink, RADAR and the Terrence Higgins Trust, have also called for action.
Mark Harper MP, the Conservative shadow disabled people’s minister, said many people with hidden impairments have had so many “knock-backs and rejections” that they withdraw their job application as soon as they realise there will be detailed questions about their health.
Caroline Gooding, representing RADAR, had told the committee at an earlier hearing that restricting the questionnaires would be “probably the single biggest difference and improvement” the bill could make to disabled people’s employment.
Labour MP David Drew introduced a clause which would only allow employers to ask for such information: to identify the need for reasonable adjustments at a job interview; to monitor disabled applicants (anonymously); to support positive action in recruitment; or to determine whether someone could perform a specific job-related function.
Vera Baird, the solicitor general, said the government could not support Drew’s clause but would introduce its own amendment at the bill’s report stage.
Baird also introduced a government clause aimed at outlawing so-called “combined discrimination”.
This would allow someone to claim they were being discriminated against because they were, for example, a black disabled person, rather than having to bring two separate claims for discrimination.
Baird said this would allow someone who had been treated less favourably because of a combination of two “protected characteristics” – such as race and disability – to secure compensation.
But she said the new provision would be limited to combinations of two, as there was not enough evidence of combined discrimination involving three or more characteristics.
She said businesses had been consulted and “recognised that there was a gap in the law”.
Opposition committee members welcomed the new clause.
Lynne Featherstone MP, for the Liberal Democrats, said it was “a great step forward”.
She said: “People suffer not necessarily because they have one protected characteristic, but because they have many.”
The equality bill has now completed its Commons committee stage. No date has yet been set for the report stage.
10 July 2009