A real mixed bag this week. Which I hope is of interest. As I was writing this I’ve just listened to Ray Gosling a BBC broadcaster and journalist talking about how he suffocated “his bit on the side” who was terminally ill with AIDS. Given my comments last week on the assisted suicide debate this is frightening! Let’s be clear though from the litte we know at this stage it seems that murder is a better description and I understand that Nottinghamshire Police have started an investigation. Watch this space as they say. Link to story http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/nottinghamshire/8516499.stm
Government adds confusion to Eagle’s reserved posts comments
The Government Equalities Office has added to the confusion caused by a government minister who told MPs that it was illegal to reserve jobs solely for disabled people.
Maria Eagle, an equalities minister and former minister for disabled people, told the communities and local government committee two weeks ago that it was illegal to reserve posts under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and would remain so under the equality bill.
She has now been forced to write to the committee, after it wrote to her “seeking clarification” of her comments.
During questioning from the committee about the equality bill, Eagle said that “positive action” – favouring the disabled person when faced with two equally qualified job candidates – was legal and would stay legal under the bill.
But she also said that only allowing disabled applicants to apply for a particular job was illegal and would remain so in the new bill.
Reserving posts for disabled people is a widespread practice, both by disabled people’s organisations and across the disability sector, and campaigners were left bemused by her comments.
A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman said: “Everybody has the right to be treated fairly and employers are not allowed to discriminate when hiring staff.
“However, there is an exemption where a particular characteristic is a requirement of the job – for example, an organisation providing counselling services for young deaf people might require its counsellors to be deaf in order to share life experiences and use British Sign Language with their clients.
“This is the case under the DDA and the equality bill will not change this. Maria Eagle has written to the select committee to make this clear.”
But the spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether Eagle was admitting she had made a mistake, or whether she stood by her evidence.
Equality bill amendment ‘will boost number of accessible taxis’
Delighted campaigners have welcomed proposed new laws that will force many local authorities to allow more wheelchair-accessible taxis onto the streets.
The new amendment to the government’s equality bill was proposed by the disabled peer Baroness Wilkins and backed by a string of fellow peers – and accepted by the government – during the bill’s committee stage.
The amendment will mean that local authorities that have introduced policies to control taxi numbers will not be able to refuse a licence for a wheelchair-accessible vehicle if the area does not have enough accessible taxis.
Baroness Wilkins, a wheelchair-user herself, said provision of accessible transport was “essential for equality of opportunity” but councils with “quantity-control policies” and relatively few or no accessible taxis can refuse licence applications for wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
She said this can leave wheelchair-users who travel to such areas by train “stranded” once they arrive.
She added: “One must also think what it means for those living in the area when they need to get to an urgent appointment or visit friends and have a social life.”
For the government, Baroness Thornton said: “It is unacceptable that a licensing authority which controls taxi numbers can routinely refuse applications for wheelchair-accessible taxis when it has very few wheelchair-accessible taxis in the district or, indeed, none at all.
“This new clause provides an ideal means of enhancing accessible taxi provision in these areas.”
She said the government would consult before deciding on the minimum proportion of taxis in a local authority area that should be wheelchair-accessible.
Geraldine Des Moulins, chief officer of Brighton and Hove Federation of Disabled People, welcomed the amendment and said it should make it easier for wheelchair-users to find taxis.
She said researchers had found that a wheelchair-user in Brighton waits four times as long as a non-disabled person for a taxi.
Her organisation persuaded Brighton and Hove City Council to announce a review of taxi services for disabled people last month.
Des Moulins said: “We have disabled people who will not go out because they do not know if they will get a taxi to get home again.”
She said the new laws would help, but there also needed to be a “culture shift within the taxi trade”, with drivers often refusing to pick up wheelchair-users.
The equality bill has now completed its committee stage in the Lords, with the report stage due to begin on 2 March.
Government research follows ‘increasing concerns’ on forced marriage
The government is funding new research into disabled people who are victims of forced marriages, following increasing concerns about the scale of the problem.
News of the research emerged after a man was jailed for trying to sell his disabled sister, who has learning difficulties, into a forced marriage.
Michael Wright, 22, from Swindon, was arrested by officers from the UK Border Agency as he arrived with his sister for the ceremony at Reading Register Office with would-be groom Ligang Qiao last August.
Wright had agreed to let Qiao marry his sister – in exchange for £8,000 – to aid his application to stay in the UK once his visa ran out.
Wright pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to assisting unlawful entry into the UK, and perjury, and was jailed this week for four years. Qiao and two other Chinese nationals were jailed for between 15 months and two years each, and will be deported at the end of their sentences.
Detective Inspector Andy Cummins, of the UK Border Agency, said it was a “despicable crime” and Wright had “attempted to exploit a member of his own family for his own financial gain”, while the other gang members “sought to take advantage of a vulnerable woman”.
A Foreign Office spokesman said its Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) – run jointly with the Home Office – had seen “a number” of cases where disabled people were forced into marriage, either by families trying to provide a disabled relative with a long-term carer or for visa reasons.
He said: “Accurate statistics for forced marriage are very difficult to compile, given its often-clandestine nature, but the incidence among people with disabilities has been the subject of increasing concern over recent years.
“The FMU are funding research to look into this area, and to compare best practice in responses. The findings will inform the unit’s future work.”
Meanwhile, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is preparing to investigate the problem of disabled women who are forced into marriage.
The EHRC’s disability committee will look at the issue as part of the commission’s Violence Against Women programme.
Anyone who is worried that they might be forced into marriage or is worried about a friend or relative can call the Forced Marriage Unit in confidence on 020 7008 0151.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com