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Parliament: Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Deparmental Equality

Roger Berry (Kingswood, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what conclusions his Department has reached in fulfilment of the duty under section 3.111 of the statutory code of practice of the disability equality duty.

Jonathan R Shaw (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Marine, Landscape and Rural Affairs) and Minister for the South East), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

DEFRA was one of the Government Departments that was criticised by the Disability Rights Commission in 2007 for failing to produce an effective Disability Equality Scheme. Rather than trying to improve and strengthen the disability aspects of our Joint Equality Scheme, DEFRA took the opportunity to produce a more focused and effective single equality scheme for disability.

Our new scheme was developed with the involvement of disabled people and was approved by the new Equalities and Human Rights Commission at the end of 2007. This new Disability Equality Scheme has been published in full and summary form on the DEFRA internet site.

Over the past year, and during the course of developing our new scheme we have seen some very tangible improvements for disabled and deaf staff and service users. We have, for example, created a central disability fund to meet the cost of reasonable adjustments for disabled and deaf staff in the Core DEFRA Department. Our bullying and harassment policy has been revised and we have recruited and trained a cohort of harassment advisors. We have also launched a mediation service for staff. In addition, we have strengthened our relationship with DisNet, our staff network for disabled staff. A very significant advancement has been in the governance arrangements for our Disability Equality Scheme. We have set up a Disability Equality Scrutiny and Advisory Group made up of independent disabled experts to monitor and advise on our progress against our action plans.

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