Memorandum submitted by Terence Higgins Trust

 

Executive Summary

1. Introduction

 

1.1 Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) is the largest HIV and sexual health charity in the UK, with offices in England, Scotland and Wales. It offers a wide range of services to people living with, affected by and at risk of HIV or sexual ill health.

 

1.2 Due to advances in treatment, most people living with HIV can now expect to lead largely normal and productive lives and for many, work is an important part of staying

healthy and active.

 

1.3 However, HIV differs from most chronic medical conditions due to the high levels of

stigma and discrimination people living with the virus still face. For many even the fear

of discrimination creates significant barriers to finding work and the Equality Bill provides an opportunity to reassure them that they will be supported to cope with any problems they may face.

 

1.4 This submission will focus on THT's areas of expertise in supporting people living with HIV to remain in or re-enter the workplace to propose changes we would like to see included in the Equality Bill.

 

2. Associative or Perceived Disability Discrimination

 

2.1 Following the ruling by the European Court of Justice in the case of Coleman v Attridge Law, we urge the Government to include provisions to protect people from associative disability discrimination in the Equality Bill. In the case of HIV, which continues to be a highly stigmatised condition, THT continues to take calls from people who are discriminated against because they are friends, family, or carer to someone with the virus. We believe that the rights of these people should be explicitly stated.

 

2.2 We would also welcome an extension of provisions to end discrimination by association to goods, facilities and services. We believe that HIV discrimination in all forms and settings is unacceptable, and the Government has a duty to protect people from it.

 

2.3 We also believe that discrimination on the grounds of association with transsexual people should be prohibited under the new Act.

 

3. Irrelevant health related questions in recruitment

 

3.1 Currently, it is legal for employers to ask a wide range of questions about a job applicant's medical history when they are recruiting, whether or not the answers will have any real bearing on the applicant's ability to undertake the specific job applied for. Additionally, employers often require a wide ranging medical examination or assessment which goes far beyond what may be needed for the job.

 

3.2 These "blanket" medical enquiries often deter otherwise excellent candidates who may be unwilling to disclose conditions such as HIV which, if properly treated, are unlikely to impact on their ability to do the job. Equally, a good candidate may well not want to lie about their condition if asked directly since this could be used against them if discovered or disclosed at a later stage. HIV, in particular, is a condition which in many cases may not affect someone's ability but which is highly likely to affect many employers' willingness to hire them, out of simple ignorance and prejudice.

 

3.3 Employers often do not realise that their employment procedures are deterring able applicants. Questions such as "How many days sick leave have you taken in the past 12 months", routinely appear on recruitment forms, despite the fact that they provide little useful information to the prospective employer. In THT's experience even seemingly innocuous questions like these can act as a deterrent to applicants.

 

3.4 Limiting employers' ability to ask superfluous or irrelevant health-related questions

would benefit not only people living with HIV but those living with a range of disabilities, and is ultimately in the best interests of employers. We would encourage the Government to use the Bill to highlight this issue and provide advice and guidance to employers on how to modify their recruitment practices to avoid deterring able candidates with long-term conditions.

 

4. A Single Public Sector Equality Duty

 

4.1 We support the creation of a Single Public Sector Equality Duty making the elimination of discrimination and harassment and promoting equality a legal duty of public authorities. THT routinely supports people living with HIV that have faced discrimination or harassment at the hands of Public Sector employees. Many of these cases could have been easily avoided if the staff had had communicated to them a basic understanding of HIV and the needs of people with the virus.

 

4.2 For example, we recently supported someone in residential care who, when her HIV status became known, was told that she would have to leave her nursing home immediately because she posed a danger to the health of other residents. Similarly, a recent study in London found that around half of people living with HIV who had suffered prejudice or discrimination in the preceding six months said it had been at the hands of a medical professional. As the numbers of people living with HIV continue to increase and more people live into retirement and old-age they will increasingly rely on public services and we believe a Single Public Sector Equality Duty is vital to help ensure the quality of their interactions and care.

 

5. Conclusions and Recommendations

 

5.1 Significant barriers still remain which affect the decision of people living with HIV to remain in or return to work. THT would like to see included in the Equality Bill:

 

Measures taken to end the inclusion of irrelevant health related questions on recruitment forms or requirements that prospective employees undertake medical assessments where the findings will not impact on their ability to do the job

 

An explicit provision to protect against associative disability discrimination

 

A Single Public Sector Equality Duty to help to protect people using public services from discrimination or harassment

 

 

November 2008