So another week done and the one just passed has been particularly sad for me as it included the funeral of one of my closest friends Graham Bool. Many of you have been kind enough to send me notes of condolence for which I am extremely grateful.
Graham and I first met at a special school in the 1950’s and continued our friendship until his untimely death on the 17th of September.
His working life started out as pretty average. Licking envelopes for the Ministry of Ag and Fisheries!! The whole direction changed when his passion for disability sport in particular wheelchair basketball, and photography led him to manage a photography shop in Piccadilly. Then after setting up his own business he began taking photos of disabled sporting events for Disability Now in 1990’s. He quickly established himself as the photographer of choice for dozens of business and sports clients. Graham was a big man; he had a big warm smile, a big moustache, a big handshake and a very big and generous heart. He was incredibly popular because of his ability to show a genuine interest in others. I will really miss him, I already am and I’m sure that those of you who knew him will also treasure the memory. He leaves behind two wonderful children Jessica and Roger.
Equality Act introduces new rights for disabled people
Major new laws to protect disabled people from discrimination come into force today (1 October), as part of the Equality Act.
The act – introduced and steered through parliament by the last Labour government – brings together nine separate pieces of existing legislation, but also includes a series of new rights for disabled people and other minority groups.
Much of the act has already been implemented, although the coalition government says other measures will be phased in over the next three years.
Among crucial measures introduced already are laws banning employers from using health questionnaires to discriminate against disabled job applicants – a move welcomed by disabled people’s organisations as a major step forward for disability rights.
Other measures which came into force on the 1st October will provide new protection from indirect disability discrimination, and should make it easier to prove that someone seeking protection under the act is a disabled person.
Theresa May, the home secretary and minister for women and equality, said the act would make it easier for businesses to comply with discrimination law by streamlining equality legislation, and would provide more protection for disabled people.
Other major improvements included in the act are likely to be introduced next year, including measures on accessible taxis and the provision of auxiliary aids for disabled pupils.
But disabled people’s organisations have raised major concerns about the coalition government’s plans for how public authorities should promote equality under the act.
In August, activists described draft regulations for these “specific duties” as an “enormous setback” in the battle for disability rights. Most of these duties are likely to come into force in April 2011.
DPTAC and ILF set to be thrown on quango bonfire
The coalition government looks set to scrap its advice body on accessible transport and the Independent Living Fund (ILF) as part of its programme of spending cuts, according to a leaked government document.
A leaked list of quangos set for abolition includes the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the ILF and the Disability Employment Advisory Committee (DEAC), as well as the Disability Living/Attendance Allowance Advisory Board.
But the list appears to confirm that the government will not scrap Equality 2025, its advisory network of disabled people.
The leaked document, published by the BBC, suggests DEAC’s functions could be transferred to Equality 2025, while DPTAC’s role could be “mainstreamed”, with its “remaining functions” transferred to other bodies.
The ILF looks likely to have its budget – currently £359 million a year – transferred to local authorities, although this is “awaiting a final decision”.
In June, the ILF – which is funded by the government and supports disabled people with high support needs to live independently – admitted it would only be able to fund 600 of the 1,000 new awards it had intended to make this year.
The leaked document also says that the future of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is “still to be decided”, although most equality campaigners believe it will not be scrapped but will have its budget cut.
The leaked list says the future of Remploy is also under review. The organisation employs about 3,000 disabled people in 54 sheltered factories, despite closing 29 factories as part of a modernisation programme.
Sue Bott, director of the National Centre for Independent Living, said she feared the impact of the loss of the ILF would be “horrible”.
She said: “I am really, really concerned because we are talking about people with high support needs, and they have got to be met for you to have any chance of being able to participate in life as a citizen
“I really want to urge the government to draw breath and understand what things like the ILF do before reaching these decisions.”
Bott said indications from civil servants were that any funding saved by scrapping the ILF would only be provided by the government to local authorities for three or four years, and after that they would “just be expected to get on with it and fund people from existing resources”.
Alan Norton, a DPTAC member and chief executive of Assist UK, said it would be a “terrible mistake” if DPTAC was to be scrapped.
He said DPTAC – already set to be cut from 19 to just 10 members at the end of this year – was a “real success story” in which disabled people had “influenced change in the country”.
He added: “I really feel it is totally the wrong thing to do. It would put us backwards in many areas.”
Trevor Phillips, chair of the EHRC, told Disability News Service that he would be “a bit surprised” if the commission was scrapped, because “somebody has to do this job”.
But he added: “There is no issue about the idea that we need to do things differently. We are not afraid of change at all. [We have] no problem about somebody saying, ‘You could be better,’ because we think so.”
Marije Davidson, RADAR’s senior policy and parliamentary officer, said she had “concerns” about some of the bodies that could be scrapped, but what was important was how the government planned to replace the vital work they did.
She said there could be opportunities for third sector organisations to take on some of these roles.
And she said it was crucial that the government listened to disabled people when carrying out its equality impact assessment of its plans.
Sue Sharp, head of public policy and campaigns for Guide Dogs, said that scrapping DPTAC would be “a retrograde step”.
Sharp, who previously worked in the Department for Transport’s mobility and inclusion unit, said DPTAC provided a “unique” opportunity for both disabled people and industry to present their cases to government, and that it had a “long record of moving forward the agenda”.
She said this work would “not get done” if DPTAC was scrapped, with the responsibility for such work left to the third sector to fund itself.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The government has made it clear that it is committed to radically increasing accountability and improving efficiency.
“As part of this, work is already underway to make substantial reforms to its public bodies. This work is on-going and an announcement will be made in due course.
“We deeply regret any extra uncertainty for employees that this irresponsible leak has caused.”
Choice and control ‘fault lines’ are ‘true measure of inequality’
Serious “fault lines” are emerging in society between how disabled and non-disabled people are able to enjoy choice and control in their lives, a major report by the equality watchdog will reveal next week.
The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is set to show that inequalities in choice and control are “major issues”, particularly for disabled and older people.
Trevor Phillips, the EHRC’s chair, said the commission’s triennial review – which will be “the most complete map” yet of “non-economic inequalities” – would show why inequalities in “autonomy and choice” were “so important”.
The review, How Fair is Britain?, will be the first major study to bring together all the available evidence in this area, and the EHRC says it will “provide a unique insight into the current state of equality in Britain”.
The commission is required by law to report to parliament every three years on “how far Britain has come towards being a fair society – and how far we still have to go”.
Phillips told a fringe event at the Conservative conference in Birmingham that the “great object of policy must be to close the gaps in autonomy and choice”, which was “a difficult challenge”.
Phillips said he believed there should be “much more” measurement of the extent to which people have “control of how they live their lives” and “the feeling that I today have chosen what I could do”.
He added: “That is much more important than some of the ways we have measured equality so far.”
He said the EHRC’s first attempts at measuring inequality in choice and control were “inadequate” but better than anyone else has managed to date.
He said: “It is absolutely clear that this is a major issue for so many people in our society. I do think it is an area where we really have to apply our minds.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com