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Discrimination against carers to be outlawed in forthcoming Bill

02 April 2009
The Government has today announced that it intends to ban discrimination against carers by protecting people who are 'associated with' someone who is disabled. This will apply in employment and in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

The announcement was made in a written statement by the Minister for Women and Equality Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP and the change will be included in the Equality Bill which will be published later this month.

In making this decision the Government has taken account of an historic case taken by carer Sharon Coleman who claimed that she was discriminated against and harassed because she had a disabled son and was treated less favourably than employees whose children weren't disabled.

How will this change benefit carers?

The new ruling will apply to the public, private and voluntary sector and will mean that employers and service providers must not treat carers differently to people who do not have caring responsibilities.

They will need to think about how they will ensure that employees or customers who are carers will be given equal access to jobs or services. This means having an understanding of who carers are and how they might be affected by their policies. Carers who feel they have been discriminated against will be able to complain to an employment tribunal, or to the County Court if they have been discriminated against by a service provider.

Imelda Redmond, Chief Executive of Carers UK said:

"This is a highly significant decision for carers. Carers UK has consistently lobbied for greater rights for carers as we hear regularly through our helpline that carers are being discriminated against. Ministers have listened to our arguments and recognised the equality challenges that carers face every day and the urgent need to protect them from discrimination. We have pressed the Government at every opportunity, and have submitted responses to several official consultations calling for carers to be given these rights.

By putting this commitment into the Equality Bill, in black and white, carers will be able to assert their right not to be discriminated against. And by giving the same rights against 'discrimination by association' across all protected groups such as age, race and sexual orientation, as well as disability, the Government is providing consistency and clarity to both employers and carers.

We particularly welcome the extension of protection in goods, facilities and services as this was not part of the Coleman judgement but will be an important protection in ensuring that carers get access to public services, financial services and in other areas like housing.

Carers UK will await the publication of the Equality Bill and will study it carefully to ensure that it will deliver greater equality for carers."

Real life examples

Sharon Coleman claimed that her employer, London law firm Attridge Law, refused to allow her to return to the same job after maternity leave, accused her of being "lazy" when she needed to take time off to care for her child and threatened her with disciplinary action. The Tribunal that considered her case said it was unclear whether the law protected her because she wasn't disabled herself. The European Court of Justice ruled that she should be protected by the law because she is associated with disability, opening up new rights to millions of carers.

John, a carer who runs a small business, was denied a bank loan because he has a disabled son who lives with him. This change would mean that he could challenge the bank's decision and make an application to a County Court to seek damages for his distress and any loss.

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