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Sunday, 19 April 2015

Does the Equality Act help disabled people in Employment?

In 2010 the Equality Act replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Equality Act is to cover more areas of an individuals life not just employment like the Disability Discrimination Act did previously. One of my main concerns is how a number of different minority legislation's have been lumped into one and that this is meant to be sufficient, wont this make the current Act less flexible? limiting those who are seen as having a disability as not all individuals fit nicely into a category of impairment. So does the Equality Act really work?

I have come to recognise that there is a mixed view on whether it really works or not depending on the individuals that are spoken to, especially with regards to reasonable adjustment within the workplace. When speaking to officials (including trade union officials who deal with case work) they can not speak highly enough of the Act and are able to state that as a result of the legislation they have been able to resolve a number of case work issues. This is great but why cant this be the same for everyone whether you have representation or not?

I have also spoke with a number of people who haven't been helped by this legislation because one of the biggest flaws is the interpretation of reasonable adjustment especially in the case of the employee against the employer, as this is sadly the time it fails the most because the employer doesn't have to improve things if they are seen to have tried. This situation often leaves disabled people feeling like they have no choice but to leave the employment.

The Equality Act states some wonderful points about how an individual can be protected by this Act and I have even found some examples as to what could be described as discrimination under the Act. But in reality, it is sad to say that what the Act claims and what it is actually achieving does not seem to correlate.

So what does the Equality Act claim? Firstly the new Equality Act isn't just talking about disability it is putting all the discrimination laws together. So as mentioned above how can this be better, surely something is going to be missed and suffer as a result of lumping the different laws into one act. These are the differences according to the DWP:

" The EA generally carries forward the protection provided for disabled people by the DDA. However, there are key differences.

  • The DDA provided protection for disabled people from direct discrimination only in employment and related areas. The EA protects disabled people against direct discrimination in areas beyond the employment field (such as the supply of goods, facilities and services). 
  • The EA introduced improved protection from discrimination that occurs because of something connected with a person’s disability. This form of discrimination can be justified if it can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 
  • The EA introduced the principle of indirect discrimination for disability. Indirect discrimination occurs when something applies in the same way to everybody but has an effect which particularly disadvantages, for example, disabled people. Indirect discrimination may be justified if it can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 
  • The EA applies one trigger point at which there is a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. This trigger point is where a disabled person would be at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people if the adjustment was not made. 
  • The EA extends protection from harassment that is related to disability. Previously, explicit protection only applied in relation to work. The EA applies this protection to areas beyond work. 
  • The EA provides protection from direct disability discrimination and harassment where this is based on a person’s association with a disabled person, or on a false perception that the person is disabled. 

The EA contains a provision which limits the type of enquiries that a recruiting employer can make about disability and health when recruiting new staff. This provision will help prevent disabled candidates from being unfairly screened out at an early stage of the recruitment process. "

So why, if these new changes are so great is there still a big problem and in particular misunderstanding towards what is reasonable adjustment? The answer is quite simple that 'reasonable adjustment' is open to interpretation and is able to be interpreted in such a way that people living with a disability are not favoured. It is the individuals living with disabilities word against a corporate organisation that have professionals who are trained in finding loop holes to ensure that they can avoid taking responsibility.

Looking above at the differences the DWP have raised, who decides whether the discrimination that occurs is because of something connected with a person’s disability, how is this decided? If an employer doesn't want to deal with the issue then its not that hard to turn a blind eye using someone's lack of ability (their disability) as the reason for the discriminatory behaviour.

Over the last year and over the coming months more individuals living with a disability will be found fit for work. This will mean that there will be more people trying to find work. This in itself causes a problem with regards to discrimination. As I have experienced myself it becomes much harder to get a job for a number of reasons. Not only are you more limited to the type of job that you can do, but even if you apply for a job and get an interview you are less likely to get the job. If you have two applicants for a job with exactly the same experience and qualifications but one has a disability and the other does not, which one would you employ? I think we all know the answer to that.

Many individuals with a disability would like to work but they need support and understanding to do so, individuals do get lucky with employers and there are individuals with a disability who are successful in work but unfortunately they are in the minority. So going back to my original thought, about the Equality Act is it really working? I feel that it is not working in far too many situations as it is open to too much interpretation, often being interpreted to benefit big businesses rather than the individuals it was set to protect.

The Equality Act can work, the next step is to make sure it works for everyone, all of the time. People living with a disability and who are able to work shouldn't be the exception to the rule. With a little understanding and some reasonable adjustment people living with a disability have a lot to offer given the chance. People living with disability should be allowed to have the same opportunities as their able bodied counterparts.

To ensure this happens and that the Equality Act works for, rather than against people living with disabilities there needs to be clear guidelines that are followed and not interpreted to suit the needs of corporate business. A shift in attitudes towards the Act is paramount to ensure that more is being done to protect peoples rights to a life that everyone would wish to have. People living with disabilities have much to give if allowed to do so and if given equal opportunities. For real change there needs to investment to encourage businesses to make lasting changes that benefit all not an elitist few.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Why I will be voting for the Green Party in the UK General Election 2015

As a relatively new member of the Green Party I have continued to educate myself on what the party I have chosen to affiliate to stands for, although I have known the importance of understanding politics and the active participation in debate for many years this is the first Political Party that I have affiliated to. As part of my participation in the local Green Party (Luton and Bedfordshire) I will also be standing for a council seat in my area (Clapham, Bedfordshire).

So why is this? Quite simply I agree with their policies and the general ethos of the party. You may have heard the phrase ‘for the common good’ being used when discussing the Green Party. This is what all Green Party policies are based on, and simply means for the common good of everyone and everything.

Hopefully you realise that all Green Party supporters aren't vegan, hippies that belong to a ‘Environmental Party’ and that actually there is much more involved in the Green Party. The environment does require looking after and I do believe that we should do more to protect it for our children, but this is only one aspect that has encouraged me to support the Green Party and become an activist within it.

If we strive to live by the ethos of ‘for the common good’ we come to realise that all aspects of life, be it human or other, are important to the survival of our world. We need to ensure that we build a society based on care, love and respect for all, so that future generations have a world they can enjoy and be proud of, not one of destruction and despair. If we don’t take care now it is the future generations that will suffer from our recklessness.

When undertaking research for this article I visited the website, this site asks you to select your top 3 reasons that as a voter, I support the Green Party. I began to realise how challenging it was was to choose just 3 policies, how can you choose when there are so many important issues that I hold as equal?

So why do I feel that the Green Party speaks for me?
As a women living with a disability, I continually experience inequality in all areas of my life. These inequalities have often been exasperated by successive governments making decisions made due to greed, putting profit over people. The Green Party looks to address these issues, rebalancing the emphasis back to people rather than profit.

As a women living with a disability I have continuously been disadvantaged in employment with low pay and very few career opportunities being given to me. This is sadly the norm in many cases, with people who live with a disability feeling unable to aspire to be more due to the limited opportunities available.

There are several ways in which the Green Party look to tackle inequality of individuals like myself and I aim within this article to acknowledge these further.

The Green Party identifies that the current minimum wage is not a living wage and they are committed in going further than any other main political party by ensuring that the minimum wage is increased to no less than £10 an hour by 2020. They are committed to raising the current minimum wage to £8.10 an hour immediately, to ensure an increased standard of living and equal opportunities. This will ensure that all people in our society no matter what your current social standing is and whether a person identifies as having a disability, as LGBT or whether they belong to a minority ethnic group can be given equal opportunities. In a fair society equal opportunities are a necessity, without the support from all in society whether in power or people on the street equality cannot and will not be achieved.

As the website shows “the Green Party affirms that all human rights and fundamental freedoms apply to everyone and cannot be divided. Disabled people should be guaranteed the full enjoyment of rights and freedoms without discrimination. The Green Party is committed to the maxim adopted by the Disability Movement ‘nothing about us without us’”.

To ensure the rights of all people living with disabilities are met there needs to be a system in place that seeks to assist the most vulnerable in a way that ensures their support needs are being met effectively. As Gandhi quite famously said “The True Measure of Any Society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”.

This is why the Green Party supports an NHS that is publicly owned and run for the people rather than for profit of businesses. This is especially important for all people living with a disability as they are identified as some of the poorest in society and through no fault of their own have the highest health needs and so they require a system that they can rely on when they are in their hour of need, rather than a system that they lack confidence in and is likely to fail them.

The Green Party are also committed to ensuring that they promote gender equality and safeguard women's rights through equal pay audits, shared maternity and paternity leave and to make sure there is better support for those women in greatest need. It is clear to me that the Green Party are taking the issue of Equality seriously and that as a result of this it is clear that the policies on disability, women’s rights and general equality issues can bring about real change for minority groups. The Green Party has led me to feel that as a women with a disability I have a potential to shape the world to be a better place and that my input is equally valuable.

The Green Party recognises that it needs to ensure the rights of all are protected and so this is why they are the only party actively against TTIP. It is believed that if this trade deal goes through then it will weaken protection for workers, consumers, citizens and the environment in the EU as well as member states and trading partners. The Green Party feels that Health, workers rights, agriculture, food, cultural rights and biotech should be protected by our trade deals, not sold off to private businesses that only interest is in making a profit. The Green Party strongly believe some areas including Health, pre 18 education and water should be protected entirely from involvement in any trade negotiations to ensure continued high standards.

Another key concern with the current proposals surrounding TTIP is ISDS which stands for ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ this allows businesses to take legal action against governments if they feel that the government has acted in such a way that infringes the trade agreement. There are cases already reported where businesses have taken governments in other countries who are already in financial difficulties to court and the government has been found liable for billions of pounds worth of compensation, putting profit over society requirements with businesses gaining more power. 

The Green Party is the only main party in England who are truly against austerity. They agree that extensive investment is required to repair damaged natural environment, restore infrastructure and develop re-skilling and retraining in socially and environmentally friendly production and services. Cuts to vital services are proving that austerity does not work with the number of people in poverty at a record high. The poorest in society are unable to afford the most basic provisions and so are becoming reliant on food banks, living in substandard conditions and unable to see a way out of the current situation that they have found themselves in. How can austerity be working when our most vulnerable, poorest people are being pushed into living in standards that we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy?

I may not have convinced you to vote Green in the next election just by giving you an explanation as to why I will be, but I urge you to do your research to ensure you to make the right choice. All policies are transparent on their website unlike any other party. Their policies are voted on by party members and not just decided by a few who sit on a central committee. If you want to be part of a progressive party that wants to bring about real change then please vote with your heart and not just use a tactical vote that will give you much the same as a what we have already.

There will be lots of people who try and argue that a vote for anything other than labour is a vote for the Tories, this plays on the misconception that everyone's vote is equal. The truth is that the election is decided in a handful of marginal seats. If you are lucky to be one of those areas as a voter you are in a powerful position. 60% of seats are deemed as ‘safe seats’ this is not a reason to not vote Green, it is more of a reason to challenge candidates and campaign for change.

There is never a better time to vote Green, people are sick of the same old politics that comes from the two main parties and are looking to the Green Party because they like what they see. Are you going to vote with your heart and for something that you believe can bring about real change or are you going to continue to play the 2 party politics that has found us in this mess in the first place? Without people challenging this system nothing will change and you will continue to be disappointed and disadvantage by a system that just doesn't care.

If you still need to be convinced to vote Green please take a look at their policies so that you can make an informed decision about yours and your children's future.

I hope you make the right decision for you.