Weekly Poll – COVID-19: 10 Years of the Equality Act
Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 5 October 2020, we asked a question about 10 years of the equality act.
Question 1: It’s been 10 years since the Equality Act became law. The Equality Act rolled several pieces of equalities legislation into one single act. Do you think the Equality Act has helped to improve the lives of disabled people?
- YES – 26% (19 respondents)
- NO – 74% (55 respondents)
Respondents identified the following main themes and key concerns. We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.
The Equality Act 2010 requires employers and service providers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ that will allow disabled people to access the same opportunities and services as non-disabled people. This includes access to education, employment, housing, goods, and services. There is a duty to make reasonable adjustments if you are placed at a substantial disadvantage because of your disability. If someone does not cooperate with their duty to make reasonable adjustments, the Equality Act says it is unlawful discrimination. However, a large portion of respondents criticised the flexible nature of the term ‘reasonable adjustment’, which is left open to interpretation. As a result, service providers can argue that it is unreasonable to make certain adjustments depending on the circumstances.
“A problem I have with the Equality Act is it is the person or organisation that is making adjustments who decides what is reasonable; not me as the disabled person. What is reasonable is open to interpretation and this means you are dependent on the person / organisation being reasonable and on them seeing the value of making adjustments to include you. Many people don’t see the value of making adjustments for disabled people.”
“The idea of ‘reasonable adjustments’ needs to be decided in individual situations by an independent arbiter otherwise it is meaningless depending entirely on good will.”
“The use of the term ‘reasonable adjustments’ needs to be changed to ‘necessary adjustments’ – many hide behind what is reasonable and use cost as a justification for not reasonable.”
“The reasonable adjustments statement gives people a cop out of making things accessible and leaves it hard to challenge exclusion.”
“Decisions on what is reasonable should not be made by non-disabled people. They have no idea what is reasonable for a disabled person. Major flaw that needs rectified.”
“There is the Act then there is reality and the two are very different! The Act is open to much on the ground of interpretation and so it is, in any way possible to twist and manipulate it so as not to have to comply with it.”
“The legislation needs simplified and reasonable adjustments element strengthened (replaced).”
In addition, respondents believed that organisations simply ignore their legal duty to comply with the Equality Act 2010. In some cases, this is due to a lack of understanding of the legislation and failure to recognise that reasonable adjustments do not have to be complicated or expensive.
“Organisations and service providers need to treat equality and equal access as a must and not try to find ways out of dodging compliance, normally stating cost as the reason.”
“Unfortunately, there is still a lot more to do and there are many people who don’t take any notice of the Equality Act.”
“My local council tend to ignore both the spirit and law as laid down in this Act and look on it as a general guidance only.”
“The legislation is simply ignored. It is not understood, especially around accessibility and employment law.”
Disabled people highlighted that better enforcement measures are required in order to achieve greater levels of compliance of the Equality Act 2010. At the moment, the onus is on the individual who has been discriminated against to pursue legal action. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has duties and powers to enforce the Act. There are various approaches the EHRC can take, depending on the circumstances they are trying to change. They range from guidance and assistance to investigations and court action.
“Better enforcement and action taken against organisations, including public sector, that breach the act.”
“There needs to be more education on what people must do and more enforcement and challenge when there is a breach of the Equality Act.”
“If it was actually enforced. Not enough test cases in court to set precedence in law. Until this happens the Equality Act will not be enforced.”
“The Equality Act itself is excellent and does not need any improvement. However, it is simply not being enforced. This is because only a person who has been discriminated against can seek enforcement. The method of enforcement is to bring a legal action using the sheriff court simplified procedures which is supposed to be so easy to deal with that no solicitor is required and therefore no legal aid is available. However, very few disabled people can conduct their own court cases. The only remedy is for disabled people seeking redress is to be automatically entitled to legal aid.”
Knowledge and Awareness
Some respondents suggested that organisations must receive training on how to comply with the Equality Act 2010. As the umbrella body for Access Panels, Disability Equality Scotland strongly recommends that organisations across Scotland engage with their local Access Panel. Panels provide a valuable service in their communities by advising on the accessibility of the build environment. More information about Access Panels can be found on the Access Panel Network website: www.accesspanelnetwork.org.uk
“More employers would benefit from an overhaul of still antiquated behaviours. Education, education and some positive mediation.”
“A better awareness of the Act is required by everybody so that all disabled staff and disabled customers are treated better.”
“All Access Panels need to be trained on the Equality Act!”
“Why are Access Panels not involved?”
A portion of respondents highlighted the importance of ensuring the Equality Act 2010 acknowledges communication access. In addition, it is important for the Equality Act to be available in a number of accessible formats. At Disability Equality Scotland, we host the Inclusive Communication Hub (www.inclusivecommunication.scot), a website dedicated to providing guidance on how to make information more accessible. We also have a dedicated team who can convert information into easy read, a format that is accessible for people with learning disabilities. More information about our easy read service can be found on our website: www.easyread.scot
“Most of the Equality Act is over complicated for the lay person to fully understand. Simplify or easy read please.”
“We need an easy read version of the equality act.”
“I think it’s too complex and the language used confuses people and makes it too hard for individuals to understand and judge if it has been breached or not. I am aware that it is a legislative framework but the language needs simplified for everyone.”
“Simplification of what is expected of businesses in an easy read format. An understanding that this should be the norm, everyone should have equal access and opportunities, better marketing of this as a simple message.”
“The Act and its operation to date underplays communication accessibility and still allows too many reasons for stasis/lack of change to create equity.”
“I am deaf (oral English, not BSL) far too often I find I am having to ask for reasonable adjustments or communication access in so many areas of my life – policies which should be built in at concept/start of planning. Public services must provide communication access to fit all choices of communication access as mandatory e.g. DWP and other retained UK Government departments.”
Respondents acknowledged the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on compliance of the Equality Act 2010. In July 2020, we conducted a poll about retailers’ compliance of the Equality Act 2010 during the pandemic, with 99% (505 respondents) believing that retailers were failing to meet their legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people. You can view the summary report on our website.
“The coronavirus pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on disabled people because the equality Act was overlooked and discarded in the response.”
“The ongoing Covid-19 situation has highlighted MUCH discrimination and continues to do so.”
“The Equality Act needs to be implemented and followed. With Covid-19 disabled people don’t have equality.”
Most respondents (74%) believed that the Equality Act 2010 has not helped to improve the lives of disabled people. Disabled people questioned the flexible nature of the term ‘reasonable adjustment’, which leaves it open to interpretation. Many organisations are failing to comply with the Act, which in part is due to lack of understanding of the legislation. Greater education is needed to raise awareness of reasonable adjustments. To achieve this, organisations can consult with their local Access Panel.