The government’s response to a major House of Lords inquiry into the impact of the Equality Act on disabled people – in which it appears to have accepted just eight of 55 recommendations – has been branded a “wasted opportunity”.
The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell (pictured), who was a member of the committee that carried out the nine-month inquiry, said she was “bitterly disappointed and angry” with the government’s response.
Disabled campaigner Doug Paulley, who gave evidence to the committee, described the government’s response as a “disgusting, disingenuous travesty” which “offers absolutely nothing whatsoever and treats our experiences and evidence with complete contempt”.
The committee’s report concluded, when it was published in March, that the government was failing to protect disabled people from discrimination, and that laws designed to address disability discrimination across areas including access to public buildings, housing, public spaces and public transport were “not working in practice”.
It also said that government spending cuts were having “a hugely adverse effect on disabled people”.
An analysis by Disability News Service of the government’s response, suggests that it accepted in full only about eight of the committee’s 55 recommendations and rejected or disagreed with about 26, while partially accepting just six more.
The position on the other 15 was either unclear or saw the government pass responsibility to organisations such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Nicky Morgan, the minister for women and equalities, who responded to the report, became the latest minister to say that the government was “not convinced” that it would be “practical” to carry out an overall assessment of the impact of its cuts and reforms on disabled people.
And she dismissed the suggestion that the government could make an explicit commitment to give due consideration to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when drawing up new policies that will impact disabled people.
Morgan said she believed “strongly” that the Equality Act and the government’s various programmes “act as tangible protections of disabled people’s rights”.
She said that disability rights “cannot be delivered by regulation alone”, and said: “Forcing people to change their behaviours with regulation will not always change their hearts and minds and changing hearts and minds will lead to better attitudes, better access and better outcomes for disabled people.”
She added: “While we know there is still a long way to go before disabled people can truly say they have achieved equality, government has achieved more by initiating conversations between disabled people and the public, private and voluntary sector than by the blunt instrument of regulation.”
She said the government would be reviewing its Fulfilling Potential disability strategy during the summer and autumn and would use the committee’s evidence and wider conversations with disabled people to “help shape how we will take the strategy forward until 2020”.
But Baroness Campbell said: “This response suggests our minister for disabled people [Justin Tomlinson], his departmental officials and our wider government, do not understand the depth of disability discrimination and its blight on the whole of society.
“If they did, it would be a very different response. One that demonstrated to the committee a root and branch, cross-government strategy to tackle the barriers that prevent disabled people from living independently, working, learning and generally participating as equal citizens.
“Naturally I’m bitterly disappointed and angry at this wasted opportunity to kick-start a progressive equality agenda for the UK’s 11 million disabled people.”
Paulley said he had shed “tears of frustration, disgust and fear” when he read the response.
He said: “It offers absolutely nothing whatsoever and treats our experiences and evidence with complete contempt.”
He was particularly angry that Morgan stated in her response that the government would consider how it could learn from his experience of taking many successful disability discrimination legal actions.
He said: “My whole evidence to the committee was that the system is stuffed and as a result disabled people by and large haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell of enforcing their rights given to them in the act.
“I hopefully made clear that I am very unusual in being able to do so, and that my use of the act shouldn’t be a sign that the act is OK.”
Paulley said that the “calculated brush off and disingenuous insult of this report (which so many disabled people I respect had put so much time and thought into) really got to me, and I was fuming and in floods of frustrated tears.”
He said Morgan had failed to make any new commitments, and “either denied things were necessary, said they were already doing it, said things would be discussed in the future in an existing consultation process or passed the buck”.