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1 April 2008

Disability Legislation

Parliamentray Monitor, April 2008

In many walks of life attitudes have changed in the last 20 years so much that we often find it hard to believe what was actually acceptable just a few years ago.

We now know that for an employer to refuse to interview a job applicant on the grounds that the applicant was black or gay would land that employer in court, yet recent evidence shows that there is still an attitude that discrimination against the disabled is an implicitly accepted part of our everyday lives.

Whether it is in the employment field, with employers believing that a disability genuinely rules out an applicant from an interview, or in schools where children with vision problems are regularly forced to wait many weeks for their work to be made available in a usable format. Expectations are regularly lowered so that those with disabilities not only receive second class treatment – they expect nothing more.

Living with a disability in the family affects the life of the entire family in a number of ways. Coping with the disability is often hard enough but added to this is often a battle against the benefits system and a financial struggle with the income of disabled households being much lower than average, while their costs are much higher.

We will all benefit if more disabled people play a full part in society. The Treasury will take more tax, benefits will be reduced and more people will make a positive contribution to society, using their talents to the full.

What is required now is a move towards ensuring that living with a disability is not a passport to becoming a second class citizen. Legislation passed by the Government must result in tough actions against those individuals and companies whose actions result in anything other than equal treatment for all – including those with disabilities.

The publication earlier this month of the Independent Living Strategy Launch outlined the government’s plans for meeting the aspirations of disabled people. While the ambition and objectives of the strategy are to be applauded, if we are to deliver on them, then there is a growing consensus that an Independent Living Bill is necessary to provide the legislative backbone to underpin the high principle.

The Expert Panel put together by the Government to produce the strategy made its views on the matter perfectly clear – that without a legislative framework, the five year Strategy will have its impact curtailed and will likely fail in its key aim of meeting the aspirations of disabled people. The Government are in a minority of one if they believe that they can deliver the wide-ranging changes that Independent Living requires by merely tinkering around the edges of existing policy and guidance.

It ought to be pointed out that we already have an Independent Living Bill tabled by Lord Ashley of Stoke which the House of Lords have twice passed, and yet which has been consistently blocked by Government. By now arguing that no new primary legislation is necessary, the Government is flying in the face of its own figures, and even the views of its own advisors.

A dedicated Independent Living Bill is the only way to deliver on essential requirements such as the need for individual redress and crucially, to ensure that independent living principles are built into the fabric and the language of social care legislation. Ideally, I and many disability groups would like to see a framework which guarantees a minimum standard of support – this will remain out of reach without the legislative muscle to back it up

It would be a great tragedy if, having won the argument on policy principles, the Government’s good intentions were undermined by a refusal to make the legislative changes necessary to translate noble principles into the tangible changes we all want to see.

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This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.