Disability Inequality in Wales

The Facts

It is true that most of us will suffer ill health at some stage during our lives. However, these are typically temporary conditions that don’t have a sustained impact on the way we live from day-to-day[1]. Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is classified as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. These can include things like using a telephone, reading a book or using public transport[2]. In England and Wales, around 10 million people are limited in daily activities because of a health problem or disability[1]. In Wales In Wales the numbers of people who have activity limitations were notably higher than in the rest of the UK. Approximately 364,550 people (11.9%) reported they were ‘limited a lot’ and nearly 330,850 (10.8%) were ‘limited a little’. This means that nearly 695,400 people living in Wales are either ‘limited a lot’ or ‘limited a little’. Consequently, more than one in five people in Wales (22.7%) are affected in their daily activities by health problems or disabilities. This is thought to be because Wales has proportionately more people aged 55 and above than in England. Activity limitations are considerably more common in this age range[3].

Know Your Rights

The Equality Act 2010 protects anyone who has, or has had, a disability. So, for example, if a person has had a mental health condition in the past that met the Act’s definition of disability and is harassed because of this, that would be unlawful. The Act also protects people from being discriminated against and harassed because of a disability they do not personally have. For example, it protects people who are mistakenly perceived to be disabled. It also protects a person from being treated less favourably because they are linked or associated with a disabled person. For example, if the mother of a disabled child was refused service because of this association, that would be unlawful discrimination.

  • Direct discrimination occurs when a service provider or employer treats someone less favourably because of the disability itself. In the case of discrimination arising from disability, the question that arises is whether the disabled person has in practice been treated unfavourably because of something connected with their disability.
  • Indirect disability discrimination happens when there is a rule, a policy or even a practice that applies to everyone but which particularly disadvantages people with a given disability when compared with people who do not have that disability, and cannot be shown to be justified as being intended to meet a legitimate objective in a fair, balanced and reasonable way. As with discrimination arising from a disability, it is necessary to strike a balance between the negative impact of rules or practices on some people and the reasons for applying them: a lack of financial resources alone is unlikely to be a sufficient justification.
  • Disability harassment is unwanted behaviour related to disability that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.
  • It is unlawful victimisation for a service provider to treat someone badly because they have made a complaint about discrimination or harassment under the Act, or helped someone else to make a complaint, or because the service provider thinks that they are doing or may do these things. This applies whether or not the person being victimised is disabled.

There is a onus on employers and service providers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. Service providers and employers are required to make changes, where needed, to improve service for disabled customers or potential customers. There is a legal requirement to make reasonable changes to the way things are done (such as changing a policy), to the built environment (such as making changes to the structure of a building to improve access) and to provide auxiliary aids and services (such as providing information in an accessible format, an induction loop for customers with hearing aids, special computer software or additional staff support when using a service). Discrimination arising from disability will not be unlawful if the service provider can show that it did not know, or could not be reasonably expected to know, that the person was disabled. This means that service providers should take reasonable steps to find out whether someone is disabled, though care should be taken to ensure that any enquiries do not infringe a customer’s privacy or dignity[4]. If an employee has a disability that is making it difficult to work, employers should consider what reasonable adjustments they can make in the workplace to help, or schedule an interview with the employee to discuss what can be done to support them. This could be as simple as supplying an adequate, ergonomic chair or power-assisted piece of equipment. Reasonable adjustments also include re-deployment to a different type of work if necessary[2].