Liberal Democrat party conference: Equality policies are ‘vision for a fairer society’


newslatestThe disabled activist who chaired the committee that drew up the Liberal Democrat’s raft of new equality policies has told the party that they offer a “vision for a fairer society with opportunity for all”.

Belinda Brooks-Gordon told her party’s annual conference in Glasgow that the policies would “improve and embed equality throughout society from cradle to grave”.

Party members overwhelmingly passed a motion endorsing the Expanding Opportunity, Unlocking Potential policy paper drawn up by a working group headed by Brooks-Gordon.

Brooks-Gordon said the party would also work with employers to promote a more “enlightened culture” about the use of assistive technology in the workplace, and introduce a right to request part-time sick leave, “so people can stay in work, instead of losing their jobs”.

She told the conference that Liberal Democrats led the way and were “the radical party” on equality issues.

She said: “It’s not subversive to want equality. Why would we not want people with disabilities and of colour to participate fully in society?

“Research shows the link between the diversity of groups, and the decisions they make. More reason. Less group-think. Profit that is sustainable.”

Among other policies endorsed by the party are to strengthen the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and protect the public sector equality duty, which have both come under pressure from Conservative coalition ministers since 2010.

They want EHRC removed from government control and made accountable to parliament instead, and a new aggravated offence and tougher sentences for disability hate crime.

The conference also endorsed the call to extend bus concessions for disabled people to cover peak hours, and to bring into force laws forcing taxis to carry wheelchair-users and not make an extra charge for doing so, a measure included in Labour’s Equality Act that has yet to be implemented by the coalition.

A Liberal Democrat government would also make equality issues a “core part of Whitehall’s work” by moving the Government Equalities Office and the minister for disabled people inside the Cabinet Office.

Brooks-Gordon, a member of the party’s leadership programme, which aims to increase the number of women, black and minority ethnic, disabled and LGBT MPs, is hoping to stand for parliament in 2015.

She told Disability News Service after the debate that she was “very keen” to see EHRC become accountable to parliament instead of the government, because it was currently “answerable to the same ministers they are supposed to be holding to account”.

And she said she believed the new equalities policies would be given a fair hearing within the media, despite the current unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats in government, because journalists and commentators would be looking “forensically” at parties’ policies, with the strong possibility of another hung parliament.

And she said that the process of drawing up the policy paper over the last year would remain “one of the most rewarding” experiences of her life, even if many disabled people refused to forgive the party for being part of the Tory-led coalition.

Brooks-Gordon even suggested that she would be content, as chair of the working group, if their equality policies were implemented instead by other parties in government.

She said that some of the policies were “so glaringly obvious that they have got to be” implemented, whichever party won power.

8 October 2014