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Anti-discrimination legislation likely to cover disability only

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PLANS to make Guernsey fairer and more tolerant have had another setback, with an announcement that new anti-discrimination legislation will probably be pared back further.

Picture By Peter Frankland. 24-01-20 Michelle Le Clerc (26981634)

Employment & Social Security had originally published proposals that would have made it illegal for employers and service providers to discriminate against someone on the basis of 10 specific characteristics.

These were disability, race, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, gender, pregnancy, marital status, carer status and trans status.

In November it was disclosed that the legislation was being watered down and would cover just four characteristics.

Now there has been further backtracking and the latest plans are likely to cover disability only.

Following the publication of consultation responses showing very polarised and strong views, the president of ESS, Deputy Michelle Le Clerc, was taking a pragmatic stance.

‘We are to the wire and our priority is the disability discrimination. If we’ve still got the ability to bring in some of the other protected grounds – in particular the carers is really important – but it really depends on these next few weeks as to how much time we’ve got.

‘We’re concentrating on the disability first, I know we expanded the protected grounds but once we saw the consultation document we realised we had to narrow that down.’

ESS says it wanted to help create a more compassionate and less judgemental society, but its original plans met resistance from the business community and senior politicians, who were worried about extra red tape and cost.

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Deputy Le Clerc acknowledged that some minority groups would be feeling let down, but she believed the foundation would be established for future change.

‘In our policy paper we will be setting out a time frame for the next committee to be continuing this work, whereas we would have preferred to do it all in one go, maybe with some phased-in legislation. We’re not at that point because it’s taken us so long following the feedback, so I think there will be some resolutions saying this work must continue – those other protected grounds must not just be put on the shelf and forgotten about.

‘So for people who are disappointed, we have said that we think that’s the best way forward, putting in a resolution that will commit the States to continuing that wider equality work.’

One of the main sticking points revealed in the consultation responses was on the definition of disability.

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The traditional theory of disability is called the ‘medical model’ and it encompasses obvious issues such as blindness, deafness or the absence of a limb.

ESS prefers a broader definition called the ‘social model’ and this includes learning difficulties and mental health issues.

The social model sees disability in terms of the oppressiveness experienced and society’s failure to remove the social barriers that exclude people with disabilities from living lives as close to normal as possible.

One area that the survey respondents were able to agree on was the need for an Equality and Rights Organisation to provide education, training and guidance, particularly to small businesses.

Pleasing everyone is going to be a difficult task, said Deputy Le Clerc, who is hopeful that a compromise might prevail.

Helen Bowditch

By Helen Bowditch
News reporter

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