Government inaction is failing disabled people, says Lords report

Tuesday 29 March

The Government is failing in its duty of care to disabled people, said a Lords report published last week.

The House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and Disability Committee has been investigating the Equality Act and its impact on disabled people.

From taxi drivers refusing to take disabled people, to ‘disgraceful’ accessibility at sports grounds, to pubs and clubs failing to provide disabled toilets, the report, entitled “The Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people”, said practice in all areas must be improved.

The Committee concludes 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.

The Committee also found that Government action, whether through the introduction of tribunal fees, through the impact of spending cuts, or through 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 nine 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, instead, 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.”

Findings in the report include:

For twenty years successive governments have refused to bring into force provisions in the Act obliging taxi drivers to take passengers with wheelchairs. The Committee recommend that the Government should bring in these provisions immediately.

The Committee heard that taxi drivers sometimes fail to comply with the Act, for example by overcharging disabled passengers or refusing to carry guide dogs. We recommend that in such cases local authorities should withhold the licences of drivers. This should also apply to a refusal to carry a wheelchair, once those provisions are in force.

All new rail infrastructure must build into its design step-free access; retrofitting of stock with audio/visual annunciators must be prioritised; training for all rail, bus and coach staff must be made a legal requirement.

Sports grounds
These have been described as ‘disgraceful’ by the Minster for Disabled People and new measures are needed. We recommend that Ministers must report on the progress made on stadia, following the Premier League’s promise to upgrade all their stadia by August 2017.

Housing and Public spaces
Many restaurants, pubs and clubs are difficult to access, with many not providing basic facilities such as a disabled toilet. We want local authorities to be allowed to refuse to grant or renew these premises’ licences until they make the necessary changes.

The design of new buildings is another area where local authorities could require new buildings to be wheelchair accessible or adaptable, simply by revising their planning policies.

We heard that communications is an area where disabled people are still being failed. We recommend that all Government departments, local authorities and public bodies review how they communicate with disabled people, and that disabled people must be involved in this process.

The law and enforcement
The report finds that developments in recent years have made fighting discrimination more difficult for disabled people. New tribunal fees, less access to legal aid, and procedural changes have combined to create barriers to the effective enforcement of disabled people’s rights. We suggest changes to combat this.

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