A government minister has finally quelled fears that reserving jobs solely for disabled people might be illegal, following evidence she gave to a committee of MPs in January.
Maria Eagle MP, an equalities minister and former minister for disabled people, told the communities and local government committee that it was illegal to reserve posts for disabled people under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and would remain so under the new equality bill.
Her comments caused consternation among disabled campaigners, as reserving posts is a widespread practice both in disabled people’s organisations and across the wider disability sector.
Following concerns raised about her comments, the committee wrote to the minister asking her to clarify her evidence.
The committee has now published Eagle’s response, in which she says she is “happy to clarify the position in detail which a short verbal exchange could not really cover”.
In her letter, she says that the equality bill, as the DDA does, makes it clear that it is not direct discrimination to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person.
She adds: “What this means is that the [equality bill] would not prevent posts being advertised as open only to disabled applicants.”
Eagle also says that the equality bill’s “positive action” measures would allow employers to encourage job applications from people with a particular impairment, for example those with mental health conditions, if they believed that group experienced “particular disadvantage” and their numbers in the workplace were “disproportionately low”.
The bill would also allow an employer to recruit someone with a particular impairment if that was necessary because of the nature of the job, for instance an organisation providing counselling services for young Deaf people that was seeking to recruit a Deaf counsellor because of their “shared life experiences” and use of British Sign Language.
9 March 2010