Tories should “hang their heads in shame” over disability failures



Owen Smith

Owen Smith has called on the Tories to “find a conscience” after a peers’ report revealed disabled people are still facing widespread discrimination.

The Government has failed to stop disability access being seen as an “afterthought” and neglected to enforce their rights, a House of Lords report has found.

Many businesses, from taxis to pubs, are failing to accommodate the needs of disabled people, even though the Equalities Act lists disability as “protected characteristic”. Many restaurants do not have a disabled toilet and new buildings commonly fail to be wheelchair accessible. Notably, some Crossrail stations will not have step-free access when the rail line opens.

The current Act allows businesses to pursue “plainly discriminatory policies” because it only requires them to give thought to the impact on disabled people rather than make substantive changes to their space.

The report has called on the Government focus on the burdens experienced by disabled people rather than the challenges businesses experience in providing for them. It recommends giving powers to local authorities to reject license applications from venues that are not accessible and changing planning regulations to better accommodate disabled people.

Smith, Labour’s shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “The Tories should hang their heads in shame at this report.  It shows just how much more difficult they have made the lives of disabled people across Britain.”

The Government tried to cut welfare support for disabled people by £4.4bn in the Budget, which was met with such intense opposition Iain Duncan Smith resigned and the Government carried out a u-turn within days.

The Equality Act is designed to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religious belief, sexual orientation gender reassignment, age, pregnancy or maternity status or disability.

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