Headlines: January 4th, 2006

A campaign is beginning to ensure that senior managers in the public sector do all they can to implement the Disability Equality Duty. The campaign by the Disability Rights Commission follows the publication of a study that shows senior figures in the public sector lack a personal commitment to seeing the DED work.The Commission has published a code of practice designed to help organisations in the private and public sectors to understand the new law. The DED places a duty on the public sector actively to promote disability in the same way that they have a duty to promote race equality under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act. In addition, public sector bodies deemed to have ‘specific duties’ under the legislation will have to publish a Disability Equality Scheme. This must set out how they will eliminate unlawful discrimination and promote equality of opportunity. Those organisations with specific duties, including a range of public bodies such as local councils, government departments, universities and hospitals, have to involve disabled people in drawing up their schemes.

The Commission has also revealed the findings of a poll that shows understanding among senior managers could make the difference between the DED’s successful implementation or its failure. The survey was conducted among private sector chief executives and public sector managers. It found that senior public sector managers had low levels of interest in the new duty and – unlike their attitude to the race equality duty – they lacked the personal commitment to see it through.

The results also revealed that senior managers were transferring their responsibility to take the lead in implementing the new duties to human resources directors and equalities officers and that there was evidence of marked complacency on the impact of the DED on employment practices and workplace issues.

Bert Massie, the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, said most public bodies had to have their Disability Equality Schemes in place by December 2006 and that meant they needed to start involving disabled people now in the design and implementation of the schemes. “Public sector organisations have grasped the message about better building access for disabled people. However, they need to understand that the duty is more wide ranging than this,” he added.

The Disability Equality Duty, he said, was about ensuring that in policies and practices public sector bodies met the needs of disabled people as employees and service users. The duty was at the heart of the leadership role that CEOs and senior managers had to undertake to improve public services and not ancillary to it.

Mr. Massie said he wanted public sector managers to embrace the new duty and to take a personal lead in implementing it. The Commission’s campaign would arm them with the tools they needed to examine the readiness of their organisations to meet the challenge the new duty posed.