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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 July, 2004, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Disability transport date ducked
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Wheelchair user on the tube
Access: Campaigners want a commitment from government
Ministers have accepted recommendations on disability discrimination - but are holding back on a transport deadline.

MPs want government to set a deadline of 2017 for buses, trains and taxis to be accessible to disabled people.

The Department of Work and Pensions has said it will name a date when the Bill is before Parliament.

The UK's disability watchdog has separately praised ministers for a proposal to broaden the concept of mental illness.

Draft legislation

The government's draft legislation on disability, published in December 2003, proposes extending powers to combat discrimination.

In years to come, the treatment of disabled people typical of the last century - and still too often the case today - will be seen as an affront to their humanity
Work and Pensions secretary Andrew Smith
It includes a duty on public bodies to take disability into account when planning services in line with a similar measure in race equality legislation.

It also proposes to protect from discrimination people with long-term illnesses such as HIV, MS and cancer.

A key element of the legislation is a deadline by which public transport must be fully open to disabled people.

In May, the parliamentary committee scrutinising the proposals recommended that date should be 2017, saying that 13 years was more than enough time for transport companies to introduce changes.

But in its response to the recommendations, the Department for Work and Pensions said it won't commit to a date until after consultations as the Bill goes through Parliament.

"We recognise that disabled people want an earlier end-date," says the document.

"We will be considering very carefully the committee's recommendation. Our final proposal for the end-date will be included in the draft regulations on which we plan to consult when the Bill is introduced."

Mental health reform

Andrew Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said he had accepted the majority of the other recommendations.

Key among these is a rethink of how mental health is defined. The proposed change means people with mental health impairments will no longer have to prove their condition is "clinically well recognised".

Instead, they will only have to show that their condition has had a detrimental effect upon them, and they have suffered discrimination because of it.

In practice, this means cases alleging discrimination on mental health grounds will focus on the alleged discrimination, rather than the nature of the claimant's condition.

"In years to come, the treatment of disabled people typical of the last century - and still too often the case today - will be seen as an affront to their humanity," said Mr Smith.

"It is the last great cause of emancipation of our time."

Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, the official watchdog, said: "Many people with mental health impairments had to experience embarrassment, ignominy and stress when bringing cases," said Mr Massie.

"In many circumstances they were legally defined as not being covered by the law and denied their rights.

"The change announced today, which I warmly welcome, will finally end this perverse injustice."

Among the other key recommendations accepted by government are:

  • Strengthening proposed discrimination protection for people with mental illnesses
  • Widening powers to prevent discrimination against members of private clubs
  • Drafting the Bill in a way which allows future definitions of disability to be quickly brought into law.

    The remainder of the government's responses to the recommendations are expected to be published when the Bill comes before Parliament, probably in the new legislative year this autumn.

    Rail access setback for disabled
    06 May 04 |  Norfolk


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