Creating a fairer Britain
On 3 December 2009, the International Day of Disabled People, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) announced its intention to conduct a formal Inquiry into the actions of public authorities to eliminate disability-related harassment and its causes.
On 18 February 2010 the Commission published the draft ‘terms of reference’. The terms of reference set out what the Commission proposed to look at in the Inquiry. The Commission then consulted with disabled people and other stakeholders to check that the Inquiry was focusing on the right areas. The consultation closed on 26 March 2010.
The Commission received 68 online responses, 26 emailed responses, 8 postal responses and 1 telephone response from a wide range of individuals and organisations. More than 100 people attended one of four consultation events held in Swansea, Llandudno, Manchester and London.
The terms of reference were broadly supported by most people. There were a number of issues raised that the Commission needed to address, either through changes to the terms of reference or in other ways. The main findings were:
Explanatory notes and examples have been provided to support the definition of disability-related harassment. The terms of reference now state that the scope of the Inquiry covers harassment by strangers, neighbours, acquaintances, friends, family, relatives and partners. Harassment may occur in public places, such as streets, parks, schools and leisure facilities. It also happens in private, such as in the home. Examples have been provided of the kind of incidents that would constitute disability-related harassment. This might be verbal abuse, such as derogatory, demeaning or humiliating remarks and name-calling, or physical assaults and murder. The Commission recognises that different groups of people will often use different language to describe an incident, including ‘bullying’ and ‘hate crime’. The terms of reference now explicitly state that bullying and hate crime come within the scope of the Inquiry.
There was overwhelming support for including the harassment of family, friends and associates of disabled people as well as conduct against a person who is perceived to be disabled. This will be included but disabled people’s experiences will be the main focus of the Inquiry’s attention.
Harassment by relatives, family and partners will be considered within the Inquiry. Many respondents to the consultation disagreed with the proposed exclusion of domestic violence from the scope of the Inquiry and pointed to the high incidence of violence experienced in the home by both disabled women and men. We thought you were right, so we will now cover this (see explanatory notes and examples above). In addition, the Commission’s strategy on tackling violence against women and girls may also address domestic violence against disabled women.
The diverse experiences and needs of disabled people related to their age, race or ethnicity, gender, religion or belief, gender identity, sexual orientation and impairment type will also be looked at within the Inquiry. This is now covered in an additional term of reference.
The Inquiry’s focus on public authorities remains in place. The Commission will also look at private and voluntary sector organisations operating in the public sphere, for example a charity or business that runs services for a local authority. It will inquire into the steps taken by public authorities to prevent as well as eliminate disability-related harassment, and look at whether public authorities work together to do this. Police, schools, local councils, social housing providers and health providers were seen as some of the most important public bodies to focus on, though many thought that all public authorities were equally important.
Public transport was identified as a ‘hot spot’ for disability-related harassment. An additional term of reference will look at the steps taken by public transport operators to prevent and eliminate disability-related harassment on or around public transport.
Plain English, as far as possible, has been and will be used throughout. Examples are also provided where helpful.
The Disability Discrimination Act and its definition of disability remains the basis for the Inquiry. We understand the importance of the social model of disability, but we are using the DDA definition to ensure we can hold public bodies to account in relation to their legal responsibilities. The law was changed in 2005 so that the legal definition of disability includes people with recurring or fluctuating conditions such as HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis from the point of diagnosis. It also includes people who may not define themselves as disabled, including Deaf people and people with mental health conditions.
The Commission recognises that workplace harassment is an important issue and it is one that we take very seriously. We have taken the very difficult decision to exclude workplace harassment from the Inquiry. This is most certainly NOT because we do not think it is important. We know it is, not least because stakeholders told us so. But the decision was taken ultimately for the following reasons:
In addition, during 2010/11 the Working Better programme will review the evidence around workplace harassment of disabled people. On the basis of the Working Better review and emerging lessons from the Disability Harassment Inquiry, the Commission will scope what further action to take to address workplace harassment.
Discrimination by public bodies, such as a refusal to provide services or inadequate service provision, will not be covered in this Inquiry. It will be dealt with by the Commission’s work on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
You can find out more about the Commission’s work on the UNCRPD by visiting our website