Campaigners fear that delays in bringing forward key elements of the Equality Act could mean the coalition government is planning to water down parts of the legislation.
The government announced this week that much of Labour’s act – which streamlines existing equality laws and provides new protection in some areas – would come into force this October, as planned.
This will include laws banning employers from using health questionnaires to discriminate against disabled job applicants; providing protection from indirect disability discrimination; and making it easier to prove that someone seeking protection under the act is a disabled person.
But the coalition government has yet to consult on the draft regulations that will describe the specific duties that public bodies such as councils and NHS trusts will have to meet as part of a new single equality duty.
The Government Equalities Office (GEO) told Disability News Service this week that the public sector duty and the draft regulations were being considered as part of a review of laws passed by the previous government but not yet implemented.
A GEO spokeswoman said the government was “looking at how the rest of the act can be implemented in the best way for business”.
Earlier this week, Theresa May, the home secretary and minister for women and equalities, said: “A successful economy needs the full participation of all its citizens and we are committed to implementing the act in the best way for business.”
The duties have been a key area of concern for many campaigners. Only when the government publishes the draft regulations will disabled people know how far the government wants public bodies to go in promoting disability equality.
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said she was concerned about the government’s delay in publishing the draft regulations, and feared that this might signal a weakening of the specific duties.
She highlighted concerns that the government’s comments about business might mean it is planning to water down Labour’s plans for specific duties on procurement.
The procurement duties could force public bodies to consider disability and other equality factors in the £125 billion a year they spend on buying goods and services from the private sector.