Changing Faces, the national charity that supports and represents people who have a condition, scar or mark that affects their appearance, has called on government to increase the protection given to people with disfigurements by the Equality Act.
The Act, which came into effect in 2010, considers severe disfigurement within its disability protections. But the charity claims this is insufficient and confusing, with shockingly low awareness of the protections available.
Henrietta Spalding, Head of Advocacy at the charity, said:
Since the coming into force of the Equality Act five years ago, there haven’t been any prosecutions relating to discrimination based on disfigurement. We know from conversations we have every day with our clients and supporters that prejudice and discrimination is a daily occurrence, but we suspect people just don’t know where to turn.
In evidence submitted to a House of Lords inquiry into disability protections in the Equality Act, Changing Faces claims that fewer than 2% of its supporters knew where to turn when faced with discrimination.
Ms Spalding went on:
Many said that they just wouldn’t bother complaining, and that they would ‘just have to put up with it’ – this is troubling because it means that discrimination is going unchallenged. More than a million people in the UK live with a disfigurement, and all the evidence suggests they are not being effectively protected.
Changing Faces is calling for the legislation to be amended, and for disfigurement to be listed as a ‘protected characteristic’ in its own right, alongside race, gender, sexuality, disability and others. It also calls on government to fund an awareness campaign so that people know what to do if they experience discrimination.
Their evidence includes data from a small research project in which twelve police forces were asked where they would refer someone who’d faced discrimination because of a disfigurement. Only one, Wiltshire Police, gave the correct answer, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
The House of Lords inquiry is expected to last until the new year.