Session One: The Equality Act and the ECHR

Even though the Equality Act has been put in place and there have been changes, such as changes around DNR signs at the end of hospital beds for older and disabled people, they are not being properly enforced. For example, there was an incident in Blackpool where a disabled people felt pressured to sign a DNR.

‘It is worth noting that disabled people have lost confidence in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR) over for instance, their failure to investigate deaths within the welfare system and lack of consultations with disability advisors in making the decision to not investigate those deaths. There has also been a huge cut in funding for the EHRC which limits its effectiveness, and is failing to hold statutory authorities to account in the way that was hoped. There is a need to change and update the EHRC, for example, the need to reinstate an independent Disability Commissioner which they used to have. I believe the last two they had were Conservative peers and there is a clear conflict of interest. If you are policing a government, you need to have a level of independence from it.

Also, there needs to be structural changes to the EHRC so that it is absolutely independent and can be the watchdog that will bring cases on rights. It needs to be policing statutory authorities as well as the government, and to be leading on that if it is to have our confidence. These changes to structure must include disabled people so that the EHRC is coproducing what it’s doing alongside people with lived experience.

There has been discussion in Greater Manchester about the creation of regional level rights bodies to work with equality panels to look at enforcement of the Equality Act, and it may be an idea to look at other innovative ideas around devolution so that even if a national body won’t take action, there could be space for regional bodies to act.

‘Having the UNCRPD enshrined in UK law to give both disabled people and DPOs a stronger foundation to start from in terms of protecting rights and enforcing the Equality Act’

‘I think that a lot of people – including companies, businesses and Councils and even disabled people themselves – don’t have a full understanding of the Equality Act and how it is enforced or how it can be used’.

Councillors should have training in equalities, and there should be someone who deals with the Equality Act in Human Resources to consider education and skills, so people know what their rights are, especially those with protected characteristics. Training for employers on disability rights and characteristics, for example people with dyspraxia and ADHD are currently often seen as not being disabled and being missed by employers. As a result, you could have people being punished or attacked in the workplace.

‘There seems to be an issue around employers not wanting to employ disabled people because they are seen as ‘more hassle’ to the employer in terms of putting requires measures and reasonable adjustments in place. Instead, the employers should be in a position where it is more important that they are looking at what they can put in place for disabled people in the workplace, rather than just not employing them. This could include measures like always having the opportunity to apply for a job online to make it more accessible for those with disabilities’.

‘The laws may be there, but are disabled people able to access it? DPOs have had to resort to judicial reviews because the laws were not being enforced and because legal aid has been removed from so many tiers of the justice system that individuals don’t have access to the justice system. Instead of disabled people individually accessing the justice system through the courts, DPOs are having to seek large scale strategic litigation to try and improve a whole class of issues’.

‘When I raised my discrimination in the workplace grievance, it wasn’t successful because the timeline was so short – if that was improved it would help disabled people get justice faced with discrimination. Three months is too short, so it would be beneficial to extend this period to six months or a year to give disabled people more time to raise grievances and get justice’.

‘Legal aid is hugely over-subscribed. I would say for every person that does get legal resolution, there are probably at least 10 people who don’t; both due to access to legal aid and because of backlog of the system in terms of getting court dates’. Legal aid was one of the main sources of protection for disabled people when the Equality Act was breached and now that has been removed from them as well. For example, disabled people are much more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than non-disabled people, and the justice system must put in place support and protections to account for that.

With COVID there has been more talk about the challenges relating to care homes – there has been a failure over the years to address the injustices and violence against disabled people including people in mental health institutions and young people with learning difficulties.

Money has been wasted by councils on legal issues over keeping care packages, when instead it could be better used on actually providing sufficient services if the right decisions were made from the very beginning. Over a decade of austerity has compounded so many issues in the care system, so that to get back to where we were in 2010 would take a massive programme of reinstalling rights and support that have been devastated over the last 12 years.

Session two: National Disability Strategy and Co-production

‘Co-production doesn’t happen. ‘Consultation’ is not the same thing as working in coproduction with disabled people. Policy and decision makers need to understand that people have got individual needs and not all solutions accommodate the needs of all disabled people. Stop with the view that there will be one solution that will help everyone and instead there need to be a variety of options for support that people can choose from to suit them throughout their lives.’.

Historically, what has happened is that a policy idea is decided on by government, and then it is run past disabled people once it has been decided on. It feels like DPOs and disabled people are engaging with policy half way through the process and not from the very beginning.

If what the government is doing for the National Disability Strategy is just engagement rather than coproduction, then they need to be really honest about that, rather than pretending that it is coproduction. In local surveys by DPOs, if fewer than 100 people are interviews they feel that they cannot generalise and the government consultation for the strategy did not meet this level of engagement.

One of the things that constantly frustrates me is the lack of information and the lack of access in policy production. We talk about co-production but they are not even getting consultation right. The number of consultations that I have come across that are inaccessible, including government consultations – it was very jargonistic. For previous consultations we have asked for an easy read document and the government response has been we haven’t got one. For the government consultation on accessible housing, if you didn’t have a background in planning or housing you would really struggle to understand or engage with it. We had to hold an event in our community to explain the consultation to our members.

Despite the recent ruling that the consultation for the National Disability Strategy was unlawful, the government seems to be assuming that the strategy itself is fine. It is our understanding of the court case is that if the consultation is unlawful, then therefore so is the strategy, meaning it needs to be re-done.

Genuine co-production of these policies from the beginning are key to getting it right the first time.  No one has to time to follow up on judicial reviews with individual issues with the strategy once its announced, so it’s essential that the strategy is getting these things right from the beginning.

Both the strategy and manifestos, including the Labour manifesto need to be in accessible formats in order to get disabled people to go out and vote to make a difference in the next general election. If they haven’t got the manifesto in an accessible format with the key information on what the policies will mean for them then we are not going to be making a difference without people voting from within the disabled community.

It is also important to have more disabled representation across government at all levels and in parties, which means it is necessary that selection processes are accessible for disabled people too.

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