The Future of EHRC

We have been concerned to hear of the departure from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) of two major disability leaders, Jane Campbell and Bert Massie; and our members have raised queries and worries with us about difficulties at the Commission reported in the media.

The Commission is vitally important to the 11 million people in Britain living with ill-health, injury or disability. Disabled people campaigned for decades for disability rights law and a Commission to promote and enforce it. The EHRC has the remit to achieve greater equality and human rights for disabled people – in a context of equality and human rights for people from all parts of British society.

I urge the Commission to work with the disability sector over the next year and to show the steps it is taking to achieve greater equality and human rights for disabled people in practice. We are also asking our members to tell us what they most want the Commission to deliver, given its strategic objectives and priorities. We are seeking to work with the Commission and to hold it to account.

I am also writing to the Commission’s Chair to find out what the plans are to replace the disability expertise that Jane and Bert brought to the Commission. Delivering the Commission’s remit demands that the overall governance of the Commission attracts a high level of disability leadership.

I hope that disabled people will voice your priorities clearly, so we can together work to ensure the Commission delivers on its mandate for disabled people from all communities and in all our diversity. RADAR believes that as a minimum the Commission should:

  1. Use the Disability Equality Duty (and expected Equality Duty) to make a measurable difference on the ground to what public authorities and all the services they commission do to reduce the entrenched inequalities between disabled and non-disabled people. This includes positively tackling the disability employment, skills and pay gaps; and promoting equal participation through the social care, support and health systems. This requires the Commission to use all the levers it has – from promoting the value to Britain as a whole of full inclusion to taking strong action against those that do not comply.
  2. Tackle the endemic bullying and harassment experienced by disabled people on a day to day basis. Work to achieve the right to safety in practice, with public bodies (schools, housing bodies, local authorities, police) and extend advocacy and safe reporting centres with and for disabled people. 
  3. Effectively engage with diverse people living with ill-health, injury or disability – those for whom inequalities bite hardest – including those of us living with multiple impairments, mental health conditions, learning difficulties, neuro-diverse issues and people from excluded BME and faith communities.
  4. Let people know their rights, support significant legal cases and interventions and publicise the results so individuals know their rights and those with duties understand why and how to take action. 

We are conscious that the Disability Committee and Commission staff have already delivered some very good work on disability that is not necessarily well known, for instance:

  • Intervening in a House of Lords case and successfully challenging a Crown Prosecution Service decision to stop a prosecution in relation to a man with a mental health condition not deemed a ‘reliable witness’. He had been viciously attacked; and the judge ruled that the decision to stop the court case added insult to injury and was an infringement of his human rights. This is an important precedent setting judgement. 
  • Supporting other important legal cases, including one that required a major bank not just to compensate an individual denied access (he was expected to undertake his banking on the pavement, due to lack of wheelchair access); but also required action to achieve accessibility.
  • Producing major research on ‘targeted crime’ – that sets out recommendations on public bodies to tackle the grinding, day to day bullying and harassment that disabled people face, by using positive public sector duties and a human rights framework.
  • Agenda setting work on social care and support – From safety net to springboard – setting out ways forward that promote participation for disabled people, older people, carers/family and friends, women and men.

We urge the Commission to work with the disability sector to build on this early work and to engage with disability stakeholders and communicate results to us.

RADAR’s CEO is a member of the Disability Committee and will, with other Committee members, work strenuously to put the rights and aspirations of disabled people centre stage in Commission work, working with people from the other equalities areas to create integrated approaches where needed. The Disability Committee, made up of disabled people, has statutory powers including deciding on legal cases.

I will seek to assure myself that momentum in the Commission on disability is strong and RADAR will take its responsibility to hold the body to account in the interests of disabled people very seriously. I look forward to hearing from RADAR members and friends so we can work together to achieve this.

Phil Friend

Chair, RADAR

Author: PhilFriend

Dr Phil Friend (OBE FRSA) himself a wheelchair user, is acknowledged as the UK’s foremost consultant on disability matters. A powerful and highly popular communicator, his company – Phil & Friends – provides consultancy to many of the country’s best-known companies. In addition to his professional activities, he is also a respected champion for equal opportunities and diversity in general, where his special blend of humour and direct speaking has won admirers from around the world.

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