Equality watchdog and parts of disability movement ‘fail to highlight achievers’

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A government adviser has criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and parts of the disability movement for failing to do enough to highlight “disabled achievers”.

The criticism comes in a new report which was co-authored by the government’s disability employment adviser, Professor Francis Davis, who was appointed to the Office for Disability Issues in April to work on promoting social enterprise and improving employment opportunities for disabled people.

In the report, A Sector Deal For Disability, published by the independent thinktank Localis and the University of Birmingham, Davis and his co-author Liam Booth-Smith say that parts of the disability movement have treated “leadership”, “role models” and advocating social mobility with “caution”.

As a result, they say, “disabled people are being marginalised and excluded” from positive initiatives supported by the government.

They say EHRC has shown “enduring interest” in the number of women appointed to FTSE boards, and in championing those rising to the most senior roles from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

But they say there is either no mention of “disabled achievers” in EHRC’s published strategies or there is an “almost uniform assumption” that disabled people are “dependent on” entrepreneurialism, business or civil success rather than being responsible for it themselves.

And they point out that the state-owned British Business Bank has to report on BAME take-up of its start-up loan schemes but “has no such responsibility with regard to disabled people”.

They warn that the commission’s “historic omission in this regard”, combined with its decision to make the role of disability commissioner redundant in order to “develop a more generic approach [to equality]risks compounding this gap”.

And they say that disabled achievers such as the Tory peer Lord Shinkwin, his predecessor as disability commissioner Lord [Chris] Holmes, the late singer-songwriter Ian Dury and former home secretary David Blunkett (pictured) “provide a challenge to a culture of disability advocacy that runs the risk of not celebrating the achievements, example and challenge that individual journeys of success can contribute”.

They conclude that “this caution regarding ‘success’ in parts of the disability community is adding to the obstacles that disabled people face” and that it is “time to champion disabled leaders beyond sport and most especially in the economy”.

Lord Shinkwin and the EHRC chair, David Isaac, are currently engaged in a stand-off over the Tory peer’s role on the commission’s board.

Isaac told Lord Shinkwin that the role of disability commissioner had been made “redundant” just 36 hours before he was due to attend his first board meeting, and that he would instead be just a commissioner.

Lord Shinkwin refused to attend board meetings until his position was clarified and has said he does not accept the abolition of the post.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “We are championing the interest and contribution that disabled people make across all of society and will continue to do so.”

The Localis report also calls on the government to make a “bold” commitment to creating a new “sector deal”* for disability as part of the government’s industrial strategy.

It says such a deal should offer better support and incentives to employers, training providers and disabled people.

And it highlights the government’s failure to mention disability in its industrial strategy green paper, a criticism also made in last week’s meeting of the all party parliamentary group for disability (see separate story).

The report says a disability sector deal should be “about shifting the perception of disability as a barrier to full participation in our economy”; should encourage “investment and confidence in our emerging assistive technology companies so that they might become world leaders in their field”; and should “send a message” to disabled people that the government “stands ready and willing to support them in meeting their potential”.

Among the report’s other recommendations is for the government to abolish employers’ national insurance contributions for disabled employees, and to support start-up businesses owned or led by disabled people.

*A sector deal is an agreement between a particular sector of the economy and the government, aimed at making that sector more competitive and stimulating growth