Thursday, 30 June 2011

Red Tape Challenge

The Government is running the Red Tape Challenge and included the Equalities Act 2010. This was divided into eight main themes where contributers were asked to consider the questions below. 

ACT NOW disagreed the Act should have been included in the Red Tape Challenge at all but here is our submission to each of the eight areas where under each topic we were asked to Tell us what you think should happen to these measures and why, being specific where possible

Should we scrap them altogether?

ACT NOW believes would be disastrous for people with disabilities and society as a whole if this Act were to be scrapped or integrated with areas of existing legislation. Many people and communities worked together to ensure we had an Act that was just and fair and which gives vulnerable people the protection they deserve. The Act was designed to improve quality of life for people with disabilities and should be built upon, not destroyed.

ACT NOW finds it repugnant that the Equalities Act should even be considered as ‘Red Tape’. The Government chose to include this Act in the 'Red Tape Challenge' says a great deal about the lack of commitment toward vulnerable people who are less able than other members of our society. 

The Equalities Act has not had enough time to have a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities. The Act needs to be adhered to and should be protected. It should certainly not be watered down or diluted, or scrapped. Governments have a duty to protect all citizens from all forms of discrimination. This legislation is needed to protect people who vulnerable and disadvantaged.  
Hubert H Humphery said: "The moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped." 

Asking how the enforcement of the Act can be made less burdensome is sending out a clear message that people with disabilities are a burden to society and the state purse and are not worthy of the protection this Act provides them with.

Could their purpose be achieved in a non-regulatory way (eg through a voluntary code?) How?

A non-regulatory way would not be able to protect the characteristics of the Equalities Act. Any type of voluntary code would simply allow the dilution of the Act and allow for an inconsistent approach. It would also allow different bodies of people to interpret the Act as they felt or deemed appropriate. 

The autism community has suffered for years without the necessary legislation to protect vulnerable children and adults with autism. (Scotland still has no legislated autism strategy) To purport that a voluntary code could take the place of legislation would be a big step backward.  

The autism community lobbied for legislation for years because Governmental guidance and guidelines have failed to provide our community with the measures required to ensure that children and adults with autism were not subject to disability discrimination. The legislation within the Act must be enforced in full and not on voluntary basis. It is wrong to compromise the protection that the Act offers people with disabilities. 

It is a myth that people with disabilities are fully included into our society. Only 15% of adults with autism are in full time and meaningful employment. That is as opposed to 48% of the whole population of people with disabilities. (Labour Force survey, office for national statistics 2008) Adults with autism are being marginalised and discriminated against amongst and compared to other disabled groups. 

Often adults with autism want to work and with the correct level of support can work and yet employers are less likely to employ someone with autism as it is an often misunderstood hidden disability. The low employment figures cannot be attributed to a lack of desire to work, and demonstrate that it is considerably more difficult for an adult with autism than an adult with another disability to secure full time, permanent employment. 

There are a number of key challenges that prevent people with autism from accessing work. These range from a lack of appropriate skills due to problems in accessing education and training (including social skills and work skills training) to the failure of employers to understand and make reasonable adjustments (both during the recruitment process and in the workplace) and a lack of appropriate support for people with autism to find and sustain employment. 

A lack of understanding that autism is a spectrum condition can lead to inappropriate, stereotypical or narrow responses and active discrimination. Adults with autism have told us about employment advisers who had recommended only certain types of jobs to them, social workers who had assumed that all people with autism have a learning disability and others who had simply directed all adults with autism to Aspergers syndrome support groups. These are all active forms of positive discrimination by people and examples of adults with autism being made to fit into society in a way that some professionals believe they must.This is why the Equalities Act is vitally important to anyone who has an autistic spectrum condition.

Could they be reformed, simplified or merged? How? 

The Equality Act 2010 is the coming together of past equalities legislation, such as the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 (RR(A)A) and Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (DDA). The Act was developed after in-depth and extensive consultation with key partners from business and a wide range of communities. 

The provisions within the Act have been developed for all members of a civil society and provide rights and protection from discrimination. The Equality Act 2010 should not be reformed, simplified or merged. If we want a fair and equal society, then we need to enshrine that right in law.  

The Act is necessary as a stand-alone piece of legislation because it sends out a clear message to every sector in society that it is unlawful to discriminate against vulnerable people and that those people are protected by judiciary. The Government should seek to strengthen the Act.

The Act gives a promise and offers hope to people with disabilities that they will be treated fairly and that reasonable adjustments will be made to enable them to be fully included into all aspects of life. This includes employment, social activities, housing and choice and control. Denying people with disabilities the life chances that others take for granted must be not be tolerated. 

Can we reduce their bureaucracy through better implementation? How?

Bureaucracy will be reduced when a clear and concise message is sent out to every member of our society that discrimination will not be tolerated in law given the weight of the Equalities Act. This will help to ensure that attitudes and behaviour towards people with disabilities begin to change.

Can we make their enforcement less burdensome? How?

ACT NOW find this particular question extremely distasteful. There are many thousands of people in our society who live with disability every day with no hope of being able to make their disability less burdensome.
How something can be deemed ‘burdensome’ when vulnerable people are leading difficult lives every day is quite incomprehensible. Some people with disabilities are struggling to even exist, many are ignored or ineligible for support. 

We believe that the Government have a duty of care to vulnerable members of society who are often unable to protect themselves. We should be 100% certain that our Government has stepped up to the mark to offer these people the best possible protection.

People with disabilities are excluded from job opportunities. They are often made to 'fit in' rather than reasonable adjustments being made which would enable and not disable that person. The correct reasonable adjustment could improve life chances and socio economic stability. People with disabilities are often hidden within our communities, often ignored or bullied by other members of their communities. They face disadvantage and discrimination and this can lead to health and social inequalities, education and criminal justice inequalities. 

Public authorities, employers and communities must be transparent and accountable for their actions. Far from being seen as burdensome, the enforcement of the Act is crucial in establishing a fully engaged civic society. Equal rights are not a burden. We have to stop going through the motions of including people with disabilities and turn it into a reality. By constantly offering employers, housing associations, public venues, activities, buildings even voluntary organizations a clause that enables them to actively discriminate against people with disabilities, we show a total lack of respect for anyone who is living with disability.

People with disabilities have a great deal to offer society if they were actually treated as equals and not second rate citizens who it is acceptable for employers and businesses to sideline and push to one side.

Should they be left as they are?

Given the Equalities Act was developed by extensive working across government departments, with cross-party support and with significant input from a diverse range of communities and businesses, any dilution of the Act will regressive for any member of our society who has a disability.

The Equalities Act is absolutely essential if we want a commitment to equality and fairness to be reflected across the spectrum of society. ACT NOW would like to see this Act strengthened and enforced in full. It is morally wrong for any Government to consider people with disabilities as burdensome or to place the Equalities Act in its ‘Red Tape Challenge.’

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