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Equality strategy will move away from ‘government knows best’

The government has pledged to make it easier for disabled people to become MPs, and to research ways to prevent bullying of disabled children, as part of its new equality strategy.

Theresa May, the home secretary and minister for women and equalities, said the new strategy would be built on the principles of “equal treatment and equal opportunity”.

The strategy highlights equality issues such as the low employment rate of disabled people and the problems about a third of disabled people still face in accessing goods or services.

As part of the strategy, the Liberal Democrat equalities minister Lynne Featherstone said the government would enact a key employment measure from Labour’s Equality Act.

From April 2011, she said, employers would be able to use “positive action” in recruitment and promotion. When faced with candidates of equal merit, they will be able to choose the one who is from a group that is under-represented in their workforce, such as disabled people, women or ethnic minorities.

The strategy also claims that the new public sector equality duty – due to come into force next April – will mean public bodies will have to “publish more information on equality than before”, and show how they are “delivering improvement”.

A consultation on the specific equality duties public bodies will have to meet ended last month, but the government’s plans were greeted with horror by disabled activists when they were published in August.

One activist said the proposals “abandon the principle of mainstreaming equality” and “reduce to an absolute bare minimum the requirement of public authorities to take action to advance equality for disabled people”.

Among other pledges, the strategy promises to publish research on how to prevent and respond to the bullying of disabled children; promote better recording and encourage reporting of disability hate crime; and ensure that all government websites are accessible.

The government also pledges to continue to work with Equality 2025 – its advisory network of disabled people – address the “specific barriers” disabled people face, and involve disabled people in developing policy.

And the strategy says the government will provide “extra support to tackle the particular obstacles faced by disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials”.

It also promises to use the 2012 Paralympic Games in London to “help change attitudes and perceptions towards disabled people”.

Featherstone said: “We want to move away from the arrogant notion that government knows best to one where government empowers individuals, businesses and communities to make change happen.”

The strategy is at: