At tonight’s Council meeting, I rose to speak on two motions. The first was a motion brought by Leader of the Council, Cllr Cliff Morris, which discussed the Council’s provisions for assisting terminally ill members of staff. While I supported the motion, the Leader’s motion raised several questions that I believe require answering, so I rose to speak. The full text of my speech is below.
Madam Mayor, I read this motion with some concerns; just as I read the original basis of this motion with concern back in April, when it was called the TUC’s Dying To Work campaign. Now I’d like to reassure the opposing party that my concerns are purely technical here – the overall goal of the campaign the Leader is replicating in his motion is laudable – but it would be remiss if the issues raised by his motion were not addressed.
Firstly, the claim that “terminally ill employees are not currently protected under national disability legislation” is untrue. While Labour’s Equality Act 2010 stripped me of some of my hard-won rights as a transsexual person, it did not remove rights from disabled people; nor did it change the status of terminally ill people, who for the most part are classified as disabled from the moment they receive their diagnosis.
Under section 6(1) of the Equality Act, a person is classed as disabled if they have “a physical or mental impairment” and that “impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on [their] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” This is exactly the same as the definition in section 1 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; as the Leader should know since it was his party that introduced the Equality Act.
Now, as ACAS point out in their guidance, there are some exceptions to this rule that can take some people with terminal or life-threatening illnesses out of the protection of being classed as a disabled person. For progressive illnesses, the protection will not come in immediately upon diagnosis; it will instead begin when the condition begins to affect the person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
For other conditions, such as HIV or Cancer, the person is classed as disabled the moment the diagnosis is received; because the progress of illnesses such as those is usually difficult, if not impossible, to predict.
So to say terminally ill employees are not protected under current legislation is untrue. They are protected. My Party protected them, and your Party continued their protection. Now let’s move on to the second point of concern. The Leader states that terminally ill people can “be dismissed if they are no longer able to conduct their role with reasonable adjustments”. My issue here is the implication of this statement.
Is the Leader suggesting that a staff member should be able to remain in a role that they can no longer undertake? That’s what this reads like. At a time when we are cutting staff numbers and cutting back on services many families find essential, this to me seems entirely unworkable.
Surely a better solution would be to find the affected person a role that they can still undertake, rather than keep them on in a position that is no longer suitable but, due to the cutbacks we have already made, must surely still need doing? The alternative seems, to me, to be asking us to pay someone to do a job they can’t do, and then to leave that job undone.
Now I agree that nobody should be forced out of work due to a terminal illness. Nevertheless, current disability protections call for “reasonable adjustments” for a very good reason – because those adjustments are reasonable based on the needs of both employee and employer.
The Leader appears to be asking us to go beyond that, into the realm of unreasonableness. He’s asking us “to make adjustments to ensure [terminally ill staff] are able to stay in work as long as they wish”. Where it’s possible to do that, I wholeheartedly support him – but can he assure us that arrangements will be made to ensure that all work this Council has identified as needing to be done will still be done, so the families and vulnerable people of Bolton who rely on that work being done will not be left in the lurch as a result of these definitively beyond-reasonable adjustments?
The Leader responded to my questions by informing the room that he didn’t understand what I was saying, and then went on to say his motion was the Council’s position on provision for terminally ill members of staff. If that is the case, why was there a need for the motion in the first place? As a rule, we don’t tend to bring motions to replicate existing policy. Once again, the Leader causes more questions than he answers.