A disabled peer has hailed improvements to the public sector equality duty – the “holy grail” of the equality bill – as a “huge breakthrough” in the fight to maintain disabled people’s protection from discrimination.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell introduced the amendments to strengthen the equality duty in the bill so it did not provide a lower level of protection than the Disability Discrimination Act’s disability equality duty.
Her amendments make clear that public authorities – such as local councils or NHS trusts – must not only have “due regard” to eliminating discrimination against disabled people but in doing so must take account of people’s impairments, even if that means treating them more favourably than non-disabled people.
Baroness Campbell said: “Reasonable adjustments tailored to our particular disability-related needs lie at the heart of disability equality. Without them, we are marginalised at the fringes of society.”
The bill as it stood previously could have led to public bodies “thinking that they need to do less to take account of the needs of disabled people than they do under the current disability equality duty…the consequences of that would be disastrous.”
Baroness Thornton, for the government, said it would “under no circumstances” want public bodies to “misinterpret the new duty as imposing lesser requirements than the existing disability duty”.
She said the government was happy to accept the amendments, which were agreed as the bill continued its committee stage in the House of Lords.
Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said the public sector duty was the most important part of the bill for disabled people, and that the amendments were “absolutely vital” as they ensure that public authorities know that disability “is different to all the other strands”.
Earlier this week, another disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, failed to persuade the government to remove the blanket ban on disabled people serving in the armed forces.
Lord Low told the Lords that the blanket ban was “based on a very narrow and outdated stereotype of disability”, that impairments such as severe disfigurement, diabetes and controlled epilepsy would not “necessarily disable a person from active service” and that “everyone should be considered on their merits”.
Baroness Royall said the government would “perhaps” work on his suggestion of drawing up a code of practice on employing disabled people that would meet the concerns of armed services chiefs. But she stressed that this would not be as a part of the equality bill.
28 January 2010