The Equality Act 2010 received the Royal Assent on 8 April 2010. The Act brought together a number of statutes relating to discrimination into one statute. Most of the main provisions of the Act were brought into force by 1 October 2010 while other provisions relating to the Public Sector Equality duty of care come into force on 5 April 2011. A number of provisions of the Act however have still not been brought into force 6 years later.
A Committee was appointed in June last year under the chairmanship of Baroness Deech to conduct post legislative scrutiny of the disability provisions of the Act. During the course of the enquiry the Committee hear evidence from a range of people and organisations. The report of the committee was published on 24 March 2016. It made dismal reading.
Commenting on the report, the Chair of the Commission, 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of the Act into force, such as those requiring taxi drivers to take passengers in wheelchairs, but has in fact repealed some provisions which had protected disabled people.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.
The report reached a number of conclusions and made a number of detailed recommendations. Although it concluded that combining disabilities with the other protected characteristics in one act did not in practice benefit disabled people, it also found that separating them out would be impractical. The committee preferred to concentrate on improvements to the Equality Act 2010 which would increase the protection of disabled people.
Of particular interest was the discussion of the role of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee was at pains to clarify the position and status of the CRPD in light of “confusion” manifested by some who gave evidence to it, and in light of submissions that the Convention should be incorporated into English law. The Committee noted that:
Incorporation of the Convention is a step of a wholly different order from implementation, and would result in every provision of the Convention becoming a provision of English law, justiciable and enforceable in the courts of this country. A recommendation by the Committee that the Convention should be incorporated into United Kingdom law would certainly, as the Law Society said, “give an important signal about government commitment to equalities legislation”. But the Government, in its evidence to the inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), has argued that incorporation is unnecessary.
Rather, the Committee noted that there was an alternative, namely to give an equivalent commitment to that given by the Government in relation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which, as with the UNCRPD, is ratified, but not incorporated) to “give due consideration to the UNCRC articles when making new policy and legislation. In doing so, we will always consider the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s recommendations but recognise that, like other state signatories, the UK Government and the UN committee may at times disagree on what compliance with certain articles entails.”
The Committee noted that the Government had given no equivalent commitment in relation to the CRPD, and recommended that it do so. Such would “would be a recognition by the Government of its obligation ‘to take sufficient steps, including legislative steps, to realise the rights enshrined in the Convention.’ We agree with the [Joint Committee on Human Rights] that this would also render the debate about incorporation an irrelevance.”
The reported noted with regret the decision of the Government in 2015 to downgrade the role of the Minister for Disabled People from Minister of State to under Secretary of State, commenting that “it seemed to suggest to the disability movement that disability issues were less important.” The report made various suggestions to make the role more effective.
The report made a number of specific recommendations, of which we pick out solely that relating to the law and enforcement. The Committee concluded 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. Changes are recommended to combat these developments, including the collection of data relating to disability discrimination claims and reviewing the fee structure for tribunal claims for disability discrimination. It also recommends that the government amend the mandates of those regulators, inspectorates and Ombudsmen that deal with services most often accessed by disabled people to make the securing of compliance with the Equality Act 2010 a specific statutory duty.
The government is expected to respond to the Lords report within two months of the date of the report.