The government has set out plans to tackle barriers faced by disabled people in the UK and place them at the heart of policymaking through the creation of an equalities hub in the Cabinet Office.
Setting out a range of equality measures today, prime minister Theresa May said that the new hub would ensure the government took action to address injustices faced by disabled people in the workplace, at home and in the community.
Policies set out today include consulting on higher accessibility standards for new housing to build up to 300,000 accessible and adaptable homes every year. Guidance will also be published to help councils meet existing standards for accessible housing in England, and a consultation on measures to improve support for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions in work will be launched next month. This will include amending statutory sick pay rules to cover those earning less than £118 per week, who are currently not eligible, and to support a phased return to work. Rights to request workplace modifications on health grounds would also be extended under the proposed measures.
May said the plans would “break down barriers faced by disabled people, whether in employment, housing or elsewhere”.
The outgoing prime minister, who is set to be replaced by either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt next month, said her “determination to identify and tackle injustices, wherever they exist in society, remains as strong as ever”.
She added: “We all have a crucial role – businesses, government and civil society – in working together to ensure that disabled people get the support they need, and go as far as their talents can take them.”
Speaking on the Today programme, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd said the central unit would ensure the “enduring proposals” were implemented after May’s departure from Number 10.
The Government Equalities Office has frequently moved sponsor department, most recently in November, making the Cabinet Office its fourth departmental home in barely more than a decade.
However, the creation of the equalities hub indicates a more permanent home for the office, which will be joined by the Office for Disability Issues and Race Disparity Unit in the heart of government.
“I’m absolutely confident that any new government would want to continue with this,” Rudd said. “This has been a long time coming and there’s been a lot of planning, and we’re going to centre it in the Cabinet Office. It was kicked off by [equalities minister and defence secretary] Penny Mordaunt, who did some great work in this area. I’ve worked on it with [health secretary] Matt Hancock, with [business secretary] Greg Clark and with large business organisations to make sure it goes with them in terms of making sure we support disabled people.
The package of measures would mean that the “whole lived experience of disabled people in the UK was better”, she added.
“There is going to be legislation brought forward after consultation for making houses more accessible, so that new houses that are built, up to 300,000 a year, are more disabled friendly. We’re going to look at statutory sick pay, which has not been reformed for a long time and which plays an important role, we’re going to make sure that is open to people on lower incomes for the first time as well.”
She said that the government estimates 300,000 disabled people leave the workplace because they are not getting the right support, so a right to request workplace modifications on health grounds would help them stay in employment.
“One in five people in the UK have some sort of disability and we need to make sure they are at the heart of government policy.”
Responding to the plans, Equality and Human Rights Commission chair David Isaac said that the barriers experienced by disabled people in their everyday lives were unique.
“We have long said that addressing key issues such as housing and secure employment so disabled people can live independently in their communities requires a joined-up strategy,” he said.
“The creation of a cross-government team to coordinate disability policy is a bold statement from the government to tackle these problems and a very welcome move.
“It will help ensure the views of disabled people are better represented at the heart of government and will create a more coherent approach to improve the daily lives of millions of disabled people across the country.”