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Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK


Employers 'discriminate most against disabled'

Disabled people face discrimination in all aspects of their lives

More employers are being sued for discriminating on the grounds of disability than on sex and race, according to official statistics.

In its first report on disability discrimination cases, the government says that, in the 19 months after the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995, 92 cases were taken out against employers.

Forty-one per cent were settled by independent arbitration, 22% went to an industrial tribunal, 34% were settled privately or withdrawn and 3% were struck out.

Only 16% of the tribunal cases which have reached a conclusion went in the claimants' favour.

Disabled campaigners say the number of complaints is twice the number who complain of sexual discrimination and three times those who say they have faced racial discrimination.

They hope that the introduction of a Disability Rights Commission in the spring will make it easier for people to take out complaints and win them.

The most common DDA cases involved depression, anxiety disorders, back and neck problems and disabilities connected with the arms and hands.

The government says the figures show the Act is working.

Many employers who were accused of discrimination made "significant changes" to their working practices as a result, it said.

The study also shows that people who took out cases under the DDA were motivated more by a desire for justice than a wish for financial compensation.

At least half of employers involved in cases were aware of the DDA.

Raising awareness

Margaret Hodge, minister for disabled people, said: "It is still early days, but this is the first real evidence that the DDA is working.

[ image: Margaret Hodge: the figures show the DDA is working]
Margaret Hodge: the figures show the DDA is working
"The Act is an important part of our strategy to encourage people to change their behaviour and attitude towards those with a disability.

"We need to raise awareness of the discrimination that people with disabilities face every day - at work, when shopping or when using other local services, such as libraries or cafes."

Rachel Hirst, chairperson of the Rights Now group and a member of the Disability Rights Task Force, said the number of cases showed the extent of discrimination against the disabled.

"It is much more pernicious than other forms of discrimination," she said.

She added that the research showed only nine cases had been brought under another part of the DDA which relates to goods and services.

She said this was because people could get support from unions and arbitration services for employment cases whereas others were basically on their own.

They were not entitled to legal aid and the court system could often be "off-putting and inaccesssible", she said.

In October, stricter provisions over goods and services are being introduced.

Medical model

Ms Hirst added that the study showed that the government's definition of disability was flawed.

"It is a totally medical model and it does not work. Medical models are difficult to prove.

"Judges often have stereotyped views. A doctor may say a person is stressed, but a judge will dismiss this," she said.

She added that the average compensation for discrimination was about £2,000.

She claimed this was lower than for other forms of discrimination.

"It shows we live in a society where disabled people's lives are not given the same value as other people," she said.

But she hoped the creation of the Disability Rights Commission would address this and other general discrimination issues.

A spokeswoman for Mind said she was not surprised that mental health problems were behind many of the complaints.

The charity fought hard to get mental health on the DDA.

Research shows the mentally ill face more problems finding a job than people with learning or physical disabilities.

Mind says one in 10 members of the workforce have a mental health problem and many may be keeping it a secret.

The DDA was introduced after years of campaigning by disabled groups who wanted equal rights with able-bodied people.

But many see it as a compromise and want tougher action.

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