Public sector action to promote equality for disabled people, women and those from ethnic minority communities will be seriously weakened by government proposals produced last week, the Disability Rights Commission has warned.
DRC director of legislative change Caroline Gooding said the proposed unified duty on public bodies to promote equality, outlined in last week’s green paper on discrimination law, would be far softer than the existing separate duties to promote disability, gender and race equality.
She said the DRC, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality were all surprised by the plan to remove the requirement for public bodies to have “due regard” for equality from the proposed unified duty.
Gooding said the changes would invalidate the criticism of the Department of Health’s evaluation of the Mental Health Bill’s impact on people from ethnic minorities, for example.
Instead, public bodies would be required to identify targets on race, gender and disability, based on their local circumstances, and take steps to achieve them.
But while the DRC supported creating a single duty, Gooding said: “The philosophy of the existing duties is mainstreaming equality into public bodies’ practice. This undermines the fundamental basis of the duties.”
She said this would remove requirements on public bodies to assess the impact of their policies on disadvantaged groups.
She warned that targets would result in bodies focusing on what they could measure, excluding important issues for disabled people, such as homelessness.
The green paper also considers the case for legislating to outlaw age discrimination in the provision of goods and services, citing “anecdotal evidence” of discrimination in social care, given that average spending on older people is lower than for other client groups.
Tony Hunter, co-chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services resources committee, said lower spending on older people simply reflected differences in need, not discrimination.
A Framework for Fairness
Disability Rights Commission
Equal Opportunities Commission
Commission for Racial Equality
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