What is the Government doing to tackle disability discrimination?

The UK Government Office for Disability Issues produced a ‘Roadmap 2025: Achieving disability equality by 2025’ (December 2009) setting out how the UK government is working towards disability equality by 2025. It includes a variety of policies – some applicable across the whole of the UK and some specific to England only. The ODI and UK government departments will work closely with the Devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and consider the most appropriate arrangements in those areas for which they have devolved responsibility.

The roadmap states, “It’s simple – we want equality for disabled people We want disabled people to have a great start to life, with equal access to education and play. We want disabled people to find work, have interesting careers and access to training.We want disabled people to have equality in their everyday lives: getting around on public transport, living in housing that meets their needs, and accessing goods and services.We want disabled people to enjoy their social lives: have families and friends, take part in sports and leisure activities, and serve the community.We want all this and much more”. The report mentions progress made since 2005 including ‘Aiming High for Disabled Children’ (2007), aimed at improving service provision to children and families and specialist guidance on tackling and preventing bullying produced in 2008. Its next steps included setting aside £370 million to support short breaks for families with disabled children and continued investment in education and play. For more on the report go to www.odi.gov.uk

A campaign group, ‘For Scotland’s Disabled Children’ was set up in part to adress the failure of these funds (£34 million in Scotland) to materialise for children with disabilities. In July 2010 councils were asked what had happened to the money and none of them were able to account for how it had been spent.

In terms of the law, the main Act relating to disability since 1995 has been the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) but a new law, the Equality Act 2010 has been passed which will bring together all previous laws on discrimination (race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, religion or belief, being a transexual person, having just had a baby or being pregnant, being married or in a civil partnership, and age) under one piece of legislation. It starts to come into force from October 2010 but the DDA will continue to apply until the replacement provisions of the Equality Act are in force. The different parts will come into force at different times so advice may be needed about whether the DDA or the Equality Act applies to particular situations.

Most importantly the DDA states that it is against the law to treat disabled people less favourably than other people for a reason related to their disability. Organisations such as schools and service providers have to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the way they deliver their services so that disabled people can use them. The Equality Act will keep the core protections of the DDA but will bring in a new right that protects the family and friends of a disabled person from ‘discrimination by association’. So, for example, it will be illegal to treat an employee unfavourably because they are a carer of a disabled person.

The laws are supported by United Nations Conventions. Points from these conventions, along with policies and guidance about partnership working can be used when trying to bring about positive change.