December 4, 2003
George Jones, Political Editor
People suffering from multiple sclerosis, HIV and most forms of cancer would be granted statutory protection against discrimination because of their condition under draft legislation published by the Government yesterday.
At present, protection is granted only once the symptoms of the degenerative conditions become clearly visible.
The Department for Work and Pensions estimates an extra 73,000 people will be covered by extending it to the time of diagnosis.
A draft Disability Discrimination Bill proposes that people with such conditions could take legal action if, for example, their employer discriminated against them or they were refused service in a shop because of their illness.
The Government had previously indicated that HIV and cancer patients would benefit from legislation, but announced yesterday that MS had been added following consultation with those affected.
Mike O'Donovan, the chief executive of the MS Society, welcomed the Government's decision to extend the provisions to include everyone with MS from the point of diagnosis.
"MS is a progressive and fluctuating disease, with serious symptoms that can come and go and are not always visible," said Mr O'Donovan.
Other provisions in the draft Bill will give all public bodies a positive duty to promote equality of opportunity for the disabled in the same way that they are already required to for people of different races.
The change requires public bodies to consider the needs of the disabled at the earliest stages of planning for all new projects.
Bert Massie, the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, said the proposals would have a "seismic" impact on many people's lives.
Transport operators would be required to provide disabled people access to buses and trains where "reasonable".
The draft Bill will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a cross-party parliamentary committee during this session. The Government says it is committed to making it law by the end of the Parliament, expected in 2005.
Paul Goodman, the Conservative spokesman for disability, said publishing
the Bill in draft form was a missed opportunity. "People with disabilities
and groups representing their carers will be disappointed by this continued
delay and will feel let down."
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