Three disabled peers say they will fight to ensure that the equality bill does not lower the level of protection for disabled people currently provided by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, Baroness [Rosalie] Wilkins and Lord [Colin] Low were speaking during the second reading of the bill in the Lords.
Each welcomed the bill – which streamlines existing equality laws – but warned that parts of it provide less protection than the DDA.
Baroness Campbell said the bill could “genuinely transform opportunities over time” but gains made through the DDA must not be “lost in translation in the equality bill”.
She said she was particularly concerned that the public sector duty to promote equality would be weaker on disability equality than the DDA.
And she said the bill fails to make it “absolutely clear” that service-providers cannot charge to provide reasonable adjustments.
She also expressed concern that an immigration measure in the bill could lead to seriously-ill disabled people being denied entry or leave to remain in the UK “in contravention of the most basic human rights”.
Baroness Wilkins said she was disappointed the bill had not adopted a more “social model” definition of disability, to improve on the current situation where discrimination can only be proved if an impairment has lasted a year.
She said it was “a travesty” that so much tribunal time was wasted “arguing about how disabled someone is, rather than focusing on the discrimination that may have taken place”.
But she said she was “delighted” the bill would make it illegal for landlords to prevent reasonable requests from disabled tenants to make physical alterations to communal hallways and entrances, so they are not “imprisoned in their own home”, something she has campaigned for since 2004.
Lord Low said parts of the bill were “particularly welcome to disabled people”, including its reversal of the 2008 Lewisham v Malcolm Lords ruling, which “threatened to wreak so much havoc with the concept of disability-related discrimination”.
But he said several parts “remain of concern to disabled people”, including a clause that “explicitly authorises an exam system that disadvantages disabled candidates” and says minimising this is “merely desirable, not necessary”.
And Lord Low said he would table an amendment to “introduce an explicit duty to provide accessible information”.
Baroness Royall, for the government, said she was “carefully” considering the comments of the three peers, and others, on the public sector equality duty, and would discuss further the issue around reasonable adjustment costs.
16 December 2009