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Able Authorities: Disabled people and local Government in England

Local authorities in England are committed to meeting the needs of disabled citizens, new research published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) shows.

July 24, 2006 (Monday) - Today's report - 'Able Authorities: the Disability Discrimination Act, Local Authorities and Disabled People' - was commissioned by DCLG to examine how local authorities were implementing the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and preparing to meet requirements of the legislation which came into effect in October 2004.

From December 2006, new legislation, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, will place a positive duty on local government to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, including employees and service users.

Commenting on the report, Phil Woolas, Minister for Local Government, said:

"Today's research shows that local authorities have clearly taken the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act seriously. The report highlights key areas of success, particularly in making buildings accessible.

"But there is no room for complacency. It also shows that local authorities need to be much more proactive in considering and meeting the needs of disabled people as equal citizens. The Department is keen that local authorities continue to build on, and learn from current practice as they move towards implementing the new Disability Equality Duty which comes in this December, ensuring that disabled people are fully included as citizens, service users and employees."

Notes to Editors

1. DCLG (then ODPM) commissioned the Institute for Applied Social Studies (IASS) with the Institute for Local Government (INLOGOV) (both based at the University of Birmingham) to conduct a study of local authorities' approaches to implementing the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act.

2. Key findings from the research include:

* A great deal of good practice was found across the case study local authorities. All the case study authorities had made large (financial) investments in making buildings physically accessible and in line with their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). There was a broad range of performance on BV156, measuring the percentage of accessible buildings, ranging from 80% to 6% in 2003 but all six authorities were improving year on year.

* The modernisation agenda had provided opportunities for change in service delivery mechanisms which lent themselves to improving access for disabled people. The researchers particularly point to: the introduction of one-stop-shops or the reducing of delivery points for services as a mechanism for moving services into adapted buildings; the introduction of call centres.

* All of the case study authorities had corporate strategies in which disability equality was embedded. But all reported difficulties in mainstreaming disability equality and in achieving a joined up approach across the whole authority.

* A complaint across all six authorities from disabled service users was the seeming inability of the authorities to use information about their needs in a centralised manner. This meant that disabled service users had to set out their requirements at every point of contact. It was strongly felt by disabled service users that local authorities should develop a system whereby these requirements were recorded and available to front-line and call centre staff. Disabled service users were very frustrated at having to continually ask for information to be provided in suitable formats and having to organise accessibility themselves.

* The researchers concluded that across the six case studies, 'hard adjustments' (physical access, provision of equipment) had been made, but that the 'soft adjustments' (attitudes, which would indicate that authorities were working towards full compliance with the legislation) had not.

3. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was implemented in stages. In October 2004, the following came into effect:

* Unlawful for all employers (with the exception of the Armed Forces) to discriminate against disabled employees and disabled job applicants, regardless of the number of people they employ (previously applied to businesses with 15 or more employees).

* Previously excluded occupations such as police officers and partners in firms are covered. New relationships such as practical work experience and employment services are covered.

* New provisions on discriminatory job advertisements.

* Four kinds of discrimination - direct discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, disability-related discrimination and victimisation.

* Justification does not apply to direct discrimination or failure to make reasonable adjustments.

* New provisions on harassment.

* Service providers must make reasonable adjustments to physical features of their premises to overcome barriers to access
Further details about the legislation are available on the Disability Rights Commission website http://www.drc-gb.org.

4. The disability equality duty, introduced by the 2005 Disability Discrimination Act, comes into force on 5 December 2006. It applies in England, Scotland and Wales. All public authorities subject to the specific duties are required to publish Disability Equality Schemes by 4 December 2006. This includes local authorities. (Exceptions are primary schools in England, which have until 3 December 2007 to publish their Disability Equality Scheme and all schools in Wales which must publish their schemes no later than 1 April 2007.) The basic requirement for a public authority when carrying out their functions is to have due regard to do the following*:

* promote equality of opportunity between disabled people and other people;

* eliminate discrimination that is unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act;

* eliminate harassment of disabled people that is related to their disability;

* promote positive attitudes towards disabled people;

* encourage participation by disabled people in public life;

* take steps to meet disabled people's needs, even if this requires more favourable treatment.

*'Due regard' means that authorities should give due weight to the need to promote disability equality in proportion to its relevance.

Further details about the legislation, and statutory codes of practice, are available on the Disability Rights Commission website http://www.drc-gb.org.

5. DCLG is currently preparing its own Disability Equality Scheme. It will be published by 4 December 2006, in compliance with the legislation.
The findings from the research will be used to inform the Disability Equality Scheme and future policy decisions.

6. The full report and associated summary are available from the DCLG website: http://www.communities.gov.uk

Public Enquiries: 020 7944 4400
Department for Communities and Local Government Website: http://www.communities.gov.uk

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