The government appears to have secretly scrapped the post of disability commissioner at the equality and human rights watchdog, but is refusing to confirm that it has done so.
The decision only emerged following the government appointment of the disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin to the board of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
His appointment came after the government advertised last autumn for a disabled person to replace another Tory peer, Lord [Chris] Holmes, as EHRC’s disability commissioner.
The appointment of Lord Shinkwin came more than three months after the post was supposed to have been filled.
It was assumed – and reported last week by Disability News Service (DNS) – that Lord Shinkwin would be the watchdog’s new disability commissioner.
EHRC failed to correct that assumption last week when answering questions about his appointment, but now claims the Tory peer has only been appointed as a “commissioner who has a disability” and not as the “disability commissioner”.
The commission appeared to be taken by surprise when DNS pointed out that Lord Shinkwin and the other disabled people who had applied for the position had been told in a government information pack that the successful candidate would “act as the Commission’s Disability Commissioner”.
After it was shown this information pack, the commission refused to answer a series of questions, including whether the government had told the commission it was scrapping the post of disability commissioner, and at what point it had done so.
It also refused to say if Lord Shinkwin had originally applied to be the disability commissioner, rather than just a commissioner, and when the commission was told by the government that the peer had not been appointed to that particular post.
An EHRC spokesman said that it was “a government appointment so some of the questions you are asking would need to be directed to them”.
He said the commission’s statutory disability committee, which had been chaired by Lord Holmes and his predecessors as part of their roles as disability commissioners, was now being replaced by a non-statutory disability advisory committee (DAC).
He said the commission was “considering what arrangements for chairing and membership of the new DAC will ensure we are best-placed to develop strong arrangements for engaging with disability stakeholders for the future”.
Asked about Lord Shinkwin’s appointment, a spokesman for the minister for women and equalities, Justine Greening, who was responsible for appointing the peer, refused to answer a series of questions, and said the department was “not at liberty to release information about individual applications”.
He said Greening had met the government’s legal requirement to appoint at least one commissioner “who is or has been disabled” to the EHRC board, but refused to say if the government had scrapped the role of disability commissioner.