Protecting, extending and enforcing disabled women’s rights

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2019 National Women's Conference
25 October 2018

Conference notes that the last Labour government introduced the Equality Act 2010 in order to protect specific groups, including disabled women, from direct and indirect discrimination and from harassment and victimisation. The Act also gives disabled women the right to reasonable adjustments and protects them from discrimination arising from their disability, protections which apply to disabled people only.

However conference is aware that the Act has been under attack from the Conservative government since 2010. The provisions on dual discrimination, which would apply where discrimination related to both gender and disability, were never enacted. Provisions such as third party harassment, the power of tribunals to make wider recommendations, and statutory equality questionnaires were repealed by the Conservatives as part of their so called “red tape challenge”.

Added to this, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which was designed by the last Labour government to enforce the rights enshrined in the Equality Act, has been hit by swingeing Tory budget cuts. The National Audit Office reported that the EHRC’s budget has been cut by nearly 70% since its first full year in operation and that staff numbers have reduced by 56% since 2010. As a result, unsurprisingly, the EHRC has been unable to adequately perform the enforcement role envisaged for them.

This has meant that the Equality Act is not being properly enforced and disabled women’s rights are being ignored and undermined on a daily basis in workplaces. The gender pay gap remains in place, with women routinely paid less than men and the EHRC lacks the powers it needs to properly enforce the gender pay gap regulations. Pregnancy and maternity discrimination often goes unchallenged as new mothers don’t have time to take a case in their first three months with a newborn. Far too many employers drag their feet on implementing reasonable adjustments, sometimes for years. Without union representation, many disabled women workers are forced to resign because they cannot get the adjustments they are entitled to by law.

Conference notes with concern that exiting the European Union could allow the Conservatives further leeway to chip away at the Equality Act and remove our hard won protections. Without the same recourse to European courts, disabled women will be at the mercy of the UK government and may have to rely on UK courts alone to interpret and enforce their rights.

Conference therefore calls on the National Women’s Committee, working with the National Disabled Members Committee, to:

1)Campaign for better enforcement of the Equality Act, combined with increased funding and more robust powers for the EHRC

2)Fight any attempts to undermine the Equality Act in the light of the UK exiting the European Union

3)Circulate UNISON’s resources for representing disabled workers, including the ‘Proving Disability and reasonable adjustments’ guide and our Disability Leave bargaining guide and model policy

4)Campaign for statutory timescales for the implementation of reasonable adjustments and a statutory right to disability leave for disabled workers.