Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Government failing in its duty of care to people with disabilities, Lords report claims

The government is failing in its duty of care to disabled people by not enforcing disability laws and through continued spending cuts, among other things, according to a report by a House of Lords Committee.

The House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee has investigated the Equality Act and its impact on disabled people. Its report, ‘The Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people’, says practice in all areas needs to be improved, having found examples ranging from taxi drivers refusing to take disabled people, to ‘disgraceful’ accessibility at sports grounds, to pubs and clubs failing to provide disabled toilets.

The Committee concluded that laws designed to protect disabled people against disability discrimination simply aren’t working in practice, and that employers, service providers and public bodies are still not adapting to their needs.

In addition, the Committee found that government action, whether through the introduction of tribunal fees, the impact of spending cuts, or the removal of provisions designed to help disabled people (under the guise of reducing red tape), is having a hugely adverse effect on disabled people.

Government inaction is also to blame: the government has refused to bring into force provisions on taxis carrying passengers in wheelchairs, even though they have been on the statute book for 20 years. Provisions to make leasehold buildings more accessible for disabled tenants have also not been brought into force.

The Committee found that the Equality Act 2010, which was intended to harmonise all discrimination law across 9 protected groups, should not have included disability when it was drawn up. Although the Committee recognises that it is too late to undo this mistake, it says that the government must do all it can to improve how the Act works for disabled people.

Chair of the Committee, Baroness Deech, said: “Over the course of our inquiry we have been struck by how disabled people are let down across the whole spectrum of life.

“Access to public buildings remains an unnecessary challenge to disabled people. Public authorities can easily side-step their legal obligations to disabled people, and recent changes in the courts have led to disabled people finding it harder to fight discrimination.

“When it comes to the law requiring reasonable adjustments to prevent discrimination, we found that there are problems in almost every part of society, from disabled toilets in restaurants being used for storage, to schools refusing interpreters for deaf parents, to reasonable adjustments simply not being made.

“In the field of transport alone, we heard of an urgent need to meet disabled people’s requirements – whether it’s training for staff or implementing improvements to trains and buses – and we’re calling for all new rail infrastructure to incorporate step-free access in its design from the outset.

“The government bears the ultimate responsibility for enabling disabled people to participate in society on equal terms, and we believe it is simply not discharging that responsibility. Not only has the government dragged its heels in bringing long-standing provisions of the Act into force, such as those requiring taxi drivers to take passengers in wheelchairs, but has in fact repealed some provisions which had protected disabled people. Intended to reduce the regulatory burden on business, the reality has been an increase in the burden on disabled people.

“The Committee would like to see changes right at the top of government and is calling for the Minister for Disabled People to be given a place on the Cabinet’s Social Justice Committee.

“It’s time to reverse the attitude that disabled people are an afterthought. Many of the changes we suggest are simple and do not require legislation. We hope the government will implement them quickly.”

Rob Holland, parliamentary manager at learning disability charity Mencap, agreed with the report’s findings: “People with a learning disability face inequalities in every aspect of their lives, and this report shows that a lack of awareness about the protections in the Act and implementation issues means discrimination continues to be widespread,” he said.

“The report highlights examples of how the government, local authorities and other public bodies are failing to fulfil their legal duty and make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

“We know from talking to people with a learning disability that letters and forms from the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] are often confusing, threatening and can lead to people missing appointments, assessments and even being sanctioned.

“Within healthcare settings Easy Read or plain English information is rarely used leading to people with a learning disability not understanding a diagnosis and in turn neglecting their health or having to see their GP for an explanation.

“In light of the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Stephen Crabb’s statement [on March 23] to start a ‘new conversation’ with disabled people, this reports warning must be listened to and addressed, before people with a learning disability can participate fully and equally in society without barriers.”

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