The Minister for Disabled People, Margaret Hodge, announced on Monday that the Government would extend the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to provide increased legal protection for people with cancer, legal protection for disabled people in almost all jobs, and a legal duty on public bodies to provide equal opportunities for disabled people.
These new measures are in response to the Disability Rights Task Force Report - "From Exclusion to Inclusion" and will extend the rights of over 600,000 disabled people already in jobs and cover nearly seven million jobs previously excluded from the Act.
Mrs Hodge said, "This Government is committed to giving disabled people comprehensive and enforceable civil rights. We need those rights to create an inclusive society. To that aim, we will extend the Disability Discrimination Act so that people are protected against discrimination from the point the cancer is diagnosed as being likely to require substantial treatment and to those who have recovered or are in remission. "The Task Force report cites evidence of several women in remission from cancer, with less than a 50% chance of the cancer recurring, who have been sacked or selected for redundancy. This is shameful. The Task Force found that some employers discriminate against people diagnosed with cancer even though the cancer had no present effects, or was in remission. I know that the vast majority of employers would never behave in such a fashion and many employers are supportive; but for those that aren't, their employees need the protection of the law.
"It may surprise people to know that people who are blind or partially sighted have found it difficult to prove that they are disabled - we will change that so that people who have been certified, or registered under local authority schemes, will now be automatically counted as disabled.
"The Act will be extended to the police, fire-fighters and prison officers so that disabled people who are physically able to do the job won't be unfairly discriminated against. Physically demanding jobs, like nurses and ambulance crews, are already covered by the Act and it hasn't led to the recruitment of people who are clearly unsuited to such posts."
Paul Whitehouse, Chief Constable of Sussex Police and Chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers' Personnel Management Committee said, "I welcome the extension of the DDA. It will require us to establish very clearly what the requirements are to be an effective police officer and also assist in ensuring that police officers do not have to retire early unnecessarily."
Margaret Hodge added, "Many disabled people still face barriers in accessing services and employment. By 2004 all businesses will need to make reasonable adjustments if the physical features of their premises make access to their services unreasonably difficult for disabled people. We think it's right that disabled people should have an equal chance to work in these businesses too. By 2004 small businesses, like all others at the moment, will have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees and job applicants who need them. This measure alone will help around 400,000 disabled employees. We will also place a legal duty on public bodies to provide equal opportunities for disabled people.
John Cridland of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said, "The CBI believes that October 2004 is the most appropriate and realistic date for the removal of the small firms exemption from the employment provisions of the DDA. This coincides with the coming in to effect of the full rights to access to goods and services for disabled people."
Stephen Alambritis of The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said, "We welcome the Government's proposals and hope that we can work with them, the Disability Rights Commission, and others to help small business prepare for the changes."
Equality Direct, a telephone advice service for business on equality issues, provides free information and advice about the changes to the law and wider good practice. This service aims to make it easier for businesses to access confidential, authoritative and joined-up advice on equality issues in the workplace, and make it easier for them to understand their responsibilities. They can be reached between 8am-8pm, Monday-Saturday, and 10am-4pm on Sunday, by calling - 0845 600 3444.