Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Equality Act not protecting the disabled, peers find

Equality Act not protecting the disabled, peers find


Lords committee slams government inaction, the introduction of tribunal fees, and cuts to legal aid

The government is failing in its duty of care to disabled people, a new House of Lords report has found.

An investigation into the Equality Act 2010 and its impact on disabled people found that the legislation, which was intended to harmonise all discrimination law across nine protected groups, should not have included disability when it was drawn up.

Although the Lords Disability Committee has recognised it is too late to undo this mistake, it said the government must improve how the legislation works.

From taxi drivers refusing to take disabled people, to 'disgraceful' accessibility at sports grounds, to pubs and clubs failing to provide disabled toilets, the new report found practice in all areas must be improved.

Government action, whether through the introduction of tribunal fees or the impact of spending cuts, is also having an adverse effect on disabled people.

The report found that developments in recent years have made fighting discrimination more difficult. 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.

Government inaction is also to blame, such as with its refusal to bring into force provisions on taxis carrying passengers in wheelchairs, even though they have been on the statute book for 20 years, or provisions to make leasehold buildings more accessible for disabled tenants.

'Over the course of our inquiry we have been struck by how disabled people are let down across the whole spectrum of life,' said Baroness Deech, chair of the committee.

'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.'

The crossbench peer and lawyer continued: '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.'