Battle begins again to bring best out of equality bill


Campaigners are preparing to continue the battle to strengthen disabled people’s protection from discrimination in the equality bill.

Although they have welcomed amendments made by the government earlier this month as the bill completed its progress through the Commons, they say there is still room for major improvement.

The disability charity RADAR believes there are still at least four areas where the bill could provide “a step back” from the rights and protection offered by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), including protection for disabled immigrants.

There are also at least two gaps in existing laws that RADAR and other campaigners hope will be filled through new amendments to the bill during its passage through the Lords.

One improvement they are hoping to push is for disabled pupils to have the right to support through auxiliary aids and services, such as the provision of information in alternative formats.

Another is for an improvement to the definition of disability, so that most disabled people will not have to prove the impact of their impairment has lasted for at least a year to gain protection from discrimination.

RADAR has broadly welcomed a government amendment added earlier this month, which should solve problems caused by the controversial Lewisham v Malcolm House of Lords ruling in 2008.

RADAR has called the Malcolm ruling a “potentially fatal blow” to the concept of disability-related discrimination.

But RADAR said there were “lingering concerns” over another amendment the government made to the bill this month, this time on the issue of direct discrimination and whether disabled people can be treated more favourably than non-disabled people.

And a new government amendment that aims to stop employers using questionnaires that include health and disability-related questions to discriminate against job applicants with hidden impairments also received less than whole-hearted backing.

RADAR welcomed the “progress” on tackling the issue but said the new amendment fails to introduce a complete ban on the use of irrelevant health questions, instead allowing a disabled job applicant to use such questions as evidence of discrimination at a tribunal.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said there was a “fair bit of work to do” to ensure there was “no element of regression from the DDA” when the equality bill becomes law.

But she said there “may also be an opportunity to make further gains” through the bill, which is due to receive its second reading in the Lords on 15 December.

10 December 2009

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