Disabled people currently an 'afterthought' for Government


Disabled people are only an "afterthought" for the Government, peers have warned in a damning report that found it was "simply not discharging its responsibility".

A House of Lords committee found laws designed to eliminate discrimination "simply aren't working in practice" and some austerity and pro-business policies were having a "hugely adverse effect".

Fees for discrimination tribunals had led to an "abrupt fall" in claims since their introduction in 2003 and should be reconsidered, it concluded.

And venues and vehicles that breach legal obligations to facilitate access should face being stripped of their licences.

Detailed analysis by the committee of the impact on disabled people of the Equality Act 2010 found a catalogue of failures across the board - finding employers, service providers and public bodies were "still not adapting to their needs".

It highlighted pub and restaurant toilets being used as storage cupboards, taxi drivers refusing to take guide dogs and wheelchair-using sports fans being forced to sit with opposing fans.

Apart from failing to adequately push such change, the Government had also made life harder through its own policies and reforms, the peers suggested.

One of the committee's demands, that a legal duty on taxis to carry people in wheelchairs be brought into force after 20 years on the statute book, has been taken up by the Government.

Transport minister Andrew Jones announced hours before the report was published that he hoped the measure, which also bans charging a higher fare for carrying a wheelchair, would be in operation by the end of the year.

His evidence to the committee that he had to consider the burden on drivers and firms had been dismissed by the peers as "entirely unconvincing".

The Ministry of Justice was urged to "act on the strong evidence that tribunal fees are unfairly obstructing discrimination claims under the Equality Act".

And the peers complained that rights which had proved valuable to disabled people had been swept away in a "red tape challenge" designed to ease the burden on business - and should now be restored.

One was the power for tribunals to make recommendations for action by employers who lost discrimination cases to prevent others suffering the same problems and the other was for them to disclose details in pre-action questionnaires.

The peers heard from a string of witnesses who had suffered transport nightmares because of poorly adapted stations and vehicles which it said were typical of a widespread failure to make the "reasonable adjustments" required by law.

The report expressed astonishment that seven stations on the new Crossrail network were due to open without step-free access - something which has since been changed and the committee says should be required in all new stations.

To improve the chances of the Government improving its record, the demotion of the role of disability minister to the junior ranks should be reversed and the office holder included in the Cabinet committee on social justice, the committee said.

Baroness Deech, who chaired the committee, said: "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. 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.

"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 it 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.

"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."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith said: "The Tories should hang their heads in shame at this report. It shows just how much more difficult they have made the lives of disabled people across Britain.

"Shamefully things are set to get even worse, as even after this week's humiliating U-turn on cuts to Personal Independence Payments, the Tories are still planning to take £1,500 a year from almost half a million disabled people to fund giveaways for the wealthiest and big business. They should find a conscience, learn the lessons of last week and scrap these plans today."

A Government spokesman said: "We're committed to ensuring disabled people live their lives free from discrimination.

"That's why we've strengthened the Equality Act to create a level playing field and ensure that the law properly protects them.

"All organisations are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments and we closely monitor to make sure this is happening."

Mark Atkinson chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: "This report raises many important issues that disabled people face as employees, customers and citizens.

"We particularly welcome recommendations aimed at stopping disabled people being overcharged for taxis and private hire vehicles - something that Scope recommended to the Committee.


"Research shows almost two in three wheelchair users say they have been overcharged.


"We're pleased that the Department of Transport is looking closely at these recommendations that would help drive down some of the extra costs disabled people face."