A former leading figure in the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) has accused the watchdog that took over its work of failing to make any progress in securing rights for disabled people.
Dr Kevin Fitzpatrick, who was the DRC’s commissioner with responsibility for Wales throughout its seven-year existence, spoke out after he was awarded an OBE for services to disabled people in Wales.
He said the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had failed to make any impact on the lives of ordinary disabled people.
He added: “I think we have been going backwards in terms of disabled people.”
Research commissioned by the DRC before it was swallowed up by the new single equality watchdog in 2007 showed that disability issues had suffered in other countries when equality organisations were brought together, he said, and that had proved to be the case with the EHRC.
He said: “The fight for social justice is a long way from being won for disabled people. Are we there? Hand on heart, not at all. Have we gone backwards since the demise of the DRC? Sadly, yes.”
Fitzpatrick contrasted the EHRC’s work with that of the DRC, which he said was “the best organisation I have ever worked with, in or for”.
Although disabled people now have rights enshrined in law, many do not have access to justice, because of a lack of “good education, or money, or physical or emotional strength”, he said.
Fitzpatrick – who runs his own equality consultancy, Inclusion21 – said the OBE was “a bit of a shock”, but that it might help his voice be heard on behalf of disabled people in the fight for social justice.
He said: “Disabled people – no matter what they do or achieve in their lives – still have in certain areas to fight for civil respect.
“It is not my fault that this will actually impress some people. If it impresses them, then good luck.”
He has a string of public roles, including as a board member of Consumer Focus Wales and as a non-executive director of the Welsh Ambulance Services Trust, and is a former chair of Disability Wales.
6 January 2011