Page last updated at 22:59 GMT, Tuesday, 30 September 2008 23:59 UK

Equality body 'failing disabled'

By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News

Sir Bert Massie
Sir Bert Massie is critical of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

The new Equality and Human Rights Commission is not doing enough for disabled people, the chairman of its now-disbanded predecessor has said.

Sir Bert Massie, who was chairman of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), is now a transition commissioner in the year-old EHRC.

He told the BBC the new body was failing to build on the work already done by the DRC in its last year.

But the EHRC says it is more important to fight for equality "holistically".

Baroness Campbell - who heads the EHRC's Disability Committee - says the commission is now taking "a more holistic approach to taking down barriers" rather than concentrating on the individual equality strands.

'Groundwork done'

The EHRC assumed the responsibilities of three former commissions - covering race, gender and disability - on 1 October last year.

There's a whole range of issues which are of concern to disabled people which the new commission isn't really pushing at all
Sir Bert Massie

It has also added sexual orientation, age, religion and belief, and human rights to its brief.

Sir Bert says the DRC laid a lot of groundwork for the new commission to build on.

"We did all the work for them - all they had to do was carry it on," he said.

He says that the EHRC took longer than was necessary to get new systems up and running.

But his main criticism is that some people in the EHRC are "intoxicated" by the idea of "cross-strand" work at the expense of the important issues that affect only one minority - in this case, disabled people.

'Too many strands'

He also accuses the new equality body of under-resourcing its disability specialists.

"They had to have a disability committee because the DRC had lobbied so well to have it made a statutory committee - the only strand that has one," he said.

He acknowledges that Lady Campbell's committee is doing some good work to push forward the disability agenda.

"But there's a whole range of issues which are of concern to disabled people which the new commission isn't really pushing at all - and it's unlikely to push because it doesn't have the staff with the right sort of expertise."

Sir Bert believes that he is viewed by some in the EHRC as wanting to "hark back to the past".

On the contrary, he says, he wants to make the commission "fit for the future".

The perception among the disabled people is that the drive towards disability equality has hit the buffers
Alice Maynard
Scope

And he argues that cross-strand work is nothing new and had already been done by the DRC.

He concludes that his term of office - which expires next year - will have been "singularly unsuccessful".

"If I was making an impact, that commission on disability would be humming with activity, with life, with vibrancy. But it isn't, and I haven't."

His concerns are echoed by others in the disability movement.

Alice Maynard - who chairs pan-disability charity, Scope - says there was always a fear that disability issues would lose momentum under a single equality commission.

"Sadly, the perception among the disabled people is that the drive towards disability equality has hit the buffers," she said.

She is calling on the EHRC to now "show its muscle and demonstrate its willingness to become a passionate advocate for disabled people".

Do you want disability to be mainstream... or do you want to go down the route of being a single issue identity lobby?
Lady Campbell
Equality and Human Rights Commission
Lady Campbell believes that many of those in the disability lobby who criticise the EHRC are still mourning the loss of the single-strand commission.

"What people struggle with is that we aren't the DRC," she said.

And she says that much of the work being done by the EHRC has a disability implication.

"For instance our work on power and women had a strong [disability] element to it."

She says that people need to be more considered with their criticism.

"Do you want disability to be mainstream - so that you have a more holistic approach to taking down barriers - or do you want to go down the route of being a single issue identity lobby?"




SEE ALSO
Legal ruling win for care mother
18 Jul 08 |  England

RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific