The Liberal Democrats have refused to explain why they have omitted disabled people from key measures in their equalities manifesto.
The equalities manifesto includes measures that address discrimination in the workplace, the criminal justice system and education, but they focus on LGBT+, race and gender while ignoring disabled people.
Even in areas where the party does claim that it wants to focus on the barriers facing disabled people, its press office has been unable to provide any further details of its policies in the last week, other than the various vague pledges included in the equalities manifesto.
The lack of information and clarity may be connected to the party’s failure to co-produce its disability policies with its own Liberal Democrat Disability Association (LDDA).
The party also apparently failed to invite any members of the LDDA executive committee to the launch of the equalities manifesto.
One key policy is to extend discrimination legislation to force all companies with more than 250 employees to publish data on gender, BAME and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.
But there is no mention of disabled employees, even though the TUC revealed this month that the average disabled worker receives about £1.65 an hour, or 15 per cent, less than the average non-disabled worker, while disabled people are far less likely to be in employment (51.8 per cent) than non-disabled people (81.6 per cent).
The equalities manifesto also says that a Lib Dem government would address the over-representation of people from BAME backgrounds throughout the criminal justice system.
But there is no mention of people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties, who are also heavily over-represented in the system.
In March, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched an inquiry into whether the barriers in the criminal justice system were exposing autistic and other neurodivergent people, people with learning difficulties and those with mental health conditions to discrimination.
The Lib Dems also pledged to tackle bullying in schools, but only mentioned bullying on the basis of “gender, sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression” and ignored disabled children and young people.
In August, research described how young disabled pupils had told researchers how they were targeted by school bullies because of their impairments, and were treated as social outcasts, while the Anti-Bullying Alliance has made clear that disabled pupils are more likely to experience bullying in school than their non-disabled peers.
But even with measures that appear to include disabled people, the party has been unable to confirm any details of their plans.
The manifesto speaks of tackling the rise in hate crime “by making them all aggravated offences”, a measure that disabled campaigners have called for for years, but the party has been unable this week to confirm whether this measure would include disability hate crime.
Currently, only crimes motivated by race or religious-based hostility are treated as “aggravated offences”, but the Lib Dem manifesto appears to suggest – although this is not clear – that this will be extended to offences aggravated by hostility to disability, sexual orientation or transgender status.
There is also a pledge to “increase accessibility to public places and transport by making more stations wheelchair accessible”, and other promises that refer to “improving the legislative framework governing blue badges”, “setting up a benchmarking standard for accessible cities”, and “banning discrimination by private hire vehicles and taxis”.
But with each of these pledges, the party has refused to provide any further details.
Possibly the clearest pledge in the equalities manifesto is the promise that a Lib Dem government would introduce a British Sign Language Act, which would give British Sign Language “full legal recognition”.
A party spokesperson said: “The equalities manifesto was produced with full input from disabled party members, including Liberal Democrat party president Sal Brinton and David Buxton, our parliamentary candidate for East Hampshire [and a Deaf BSL-user].
“The Liberal Democrats are proud of their record on disability issues and we will be setting out full details of their proposals in this area as part of our manifesto in due course.”
Yesterday’s full manifesto revealed no further details about any of these policies, although it did reveal further disability-related policies, in areas such as social care and benefits (see separate story).
Despite being asked last Friday about the manifesto’s omissions and the failure to invite LDDA to the launch or to ask LDDA to co-produce the manifesto, the party had refused to clarify its position by noon today (Thursday).
Picture: Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson with the party’s manifesto
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