Mixed picture on public equality duties, says watchdog


Britain’s equality watchdog has described the efforts of public authorities to fulfil their legal duties to promote disability equality as “mixed”.

Some are still failing to encourage the participation of disabled people in public life, or promote positive images of disabled people, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

But the EHRC said there had been “some examples of very good work” and that research showed the disability equality duty had delivered benefits to disabled people.

Barbara Limon, the EHRC’s head of public sector duties, said the “vast majority” of key public organisations, such as health bodies and councils, have met their legal obligation to publish a disability equality scheme.

The schemes describe the actions public bodies say they will take to promote disability equality.

Limon said the EHRC’s focus was now on the content of the schemes, rather than just checking schemes are in place.

But she said she was “concerned” by research from the University of Leeds that showed nearly a quarter of primary schools have yet to produce a scheme and are not preparing one.

She said: “It is a requirement under the duty [to publish a scheme]. I am more concerned that they had no plans [to prepare one]. That’s particularly worrying.”

Ensuring schools fulfil their duties was “a priority”, said the EHRC. It is developing guidance and working with Ofsted to build monitoring of the disability, race and gender duties into the education watchdog’s work.

The EHRC also wrote to the chief executives of about 12,000 public bodies in April to remind them of their legal duties.

The EHRC was speaking as it released new guidance to help public authorities revise their schemes.

More than 44,000 public authorities have to publish a revised disability equality scheme every three years, and for most the next deadline is 4 December 2009.

Limon said public bodies that were not “engaging” with their equality duties were leaving themselves open to legal action.

The latest figures, from March 2009, show the EHRC took action in 175 public sector equality cases, with central government, local authorities and health bodies featuring most prominently.

These include cases handed on by the Disability Rights Commission and the two other “legacy” commissions.

Of the 85 cases completed, all but nine were dealt with through pre-enforcement action such as offering advice or sending letters. The others resulted in formal legal interventions.

10 September 2009