New figures show that nearly three-quarters of all discrimination-related enquiries to the government-funded equality helpline have come from disabled people, with this proportion rising every year.
The figures, obtained by Disability News Service through a freedom of information request, show that 72 per cent of calls to the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) helpline so far in 2023 have related to disability.
This proportion has risen every year since 2018, when it was 66 per cent.
The proportion of calls coming from members of other groups protected under the Equality Act has mostly fluctuated over the last five years.
The proportion of calls linked to sexual orientation is currently just under one per cent, compared to 1.20 per cent in 2018, while 13 per cent of calls this year have related to race, the same proportion as in 2018.
The only consistent fall in the proportion of calls has come with those related to sex (4.66 per cent so far this year compared with 7.2 per cent in 2018) and pregnancy (2.99 per cent this year compared with 5.5 per cent in 2018).
Disability is the only protected group where the proportion of calls has risen every year since 2018.
In July, the government’s draft Disability Action Plan – which aimed to “help transform disabled people’s everyday lives for the better” but was dismissed as a “PR exercise” by one disabled people’s organisation – included 12 proposed new policies, all of which were low- or zero-budget measures, with no proposed legislation.
Meanwhile, this week’s king’s speech, which detailed the government’s plans for new legislation over the next year, included no bills aimed at addressing disability discrimination other than a brief reference to accessibility on the railways in a draft rail reform bill (see separate story).
The EASS helpline is run on behalf of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) by outsourcing company G4S, and it provides advice and assistance on equality and human rights issues across England, Scotland and Wales.
A similar helpline was run by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), until it was replaced in October 2012.
From October 2012 to March 2015 (PDF), 62 per cent of enquiries received by the helpline were disability-related.
Fazilet Hadi (pictured), head of policy at Disability Rights UK, said: “Sadly, the figures are unsurprising, as discrimination and inaccessibility are an everyday feature of the lives of thousands of disabled people.
“Those that contact the EASS are just the tip of a very large iceberg.
“The fact that every year more disabled people are seeking advice and support on disability discrimination underlines that the Equality Act just isn’t working.
“We saw clearly during the Covid pandemic that the act was almost universally flouted, including by the UK government.
“We need the government and Equality and Human Rights Commission to strengthen compliance and step-up enforcement.
“We need legal aid to be available for disability discrimination cases.
“In the medium term, we need to consider new options such as those recently raised by Anna Lawson: an Accessibility Act and an accessibility commissioner.”
G4S said it was for GEO to comment on the figures.
GEO had not responded to requests to comment on the figures by noon today (Thursday).
EHRC had also not responded to requests to comment on the figures by noon today.
*The figures show the “percentage of discrimination enquiries by the main, relevant, protected characteristic of the person enquiring”
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