Tincrease the welfare, improve the status and enhance the dignity of the chronically sick and of disabled persons” 

Fifty years ago, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 obliged councils for the first time to provide certain services to disabled people living in their communities. These services included practical assistance, home adaptations and access to activities such as excursions, TV services and educational facilities.  

Whose idea was the Act and why was it introduced? 

The Act started as a private member’s bill. Alf Morris, later Lord Morris of Manchester, introduced the bill when he was MP for Manchester Wythenshawe. Lord Morris had personal experience of the consequences of living with a disability, as his father had been badly wounded during the first world war. Lord Morris later said “I know how a whole family’s life is affected if one member is disabled”. Introducing the bill at second reading in the House of Commons, Mr Morris said that the intention of the bill was “to increase the welfare, improve the status and enhance the dignity of the chronically sick and of disabled persons”. 

When the bill had its second reading in the House of Lords, four Members in wheelchairs wished to speak. In order to accommodate them, the front bench of the crossbenches was removed. Three made their maiden speeches: Baroness Darcy de Knayth, who was left paralysed by a car accident in 1964; Baroness Masham of Ilton, who was also paralysed by an accident in 1958; and Viscount Ingleby, who had polio. The fourth Member to speak from a wheelchair was Lord Crawshaw. He described the four Members as “the mobile bench”. 

What did the Act do? 

The Act required local authorities to keep a record of all disabled people in their area, and made local authorities responsible for providing them with welfare services and housing. This included providing practical assistance for people in their own homes, providing meals at home or in community centres, and adapting houses to meet people’s needs. 

The Act gave people with disabilities the right to equal access to recreational and educational facilities, and councils were obliged to provide assistance with travel to these facilities. Councils were also given the duty of providing special educational facilities for blind and deaf children. 

A code of practice was introduced for buildings that were open to the public, requiring them to provide parking and toilets for people with disabilities. The Act also brought in disabled badges for parking. 

The Act addressed representation of disabled people on public bodies, segregation of young and elderly patients in hospitals, and the provision of war pensions. 

What has happened in disabled rights since? 

Subsequent acts have developed the law in this area. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 made it unlawful for employers and suppliers of goods and services to discriminate against disabled people. It also introduced for the first time the concept of a “reasonable adjustment” to remove barriers that would disadvantage disabled people in employment and accessing services. The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 extended the concept of reasonable adjustments to housing and made it unlawful for public authorities to discriminate against disabled people. The 2005 Act also created the public sector equality duty, which imposed a positive duty on public authorities to have due regard to the needs of disabled people. 

The Equality Act 2010 brought together several pieces of disability and other equality law, repealing the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Act made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of nine protected characteristics, of which disability is one. The Act placed obligations on local authorities, among others, to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled people can access their services. However, many of the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 that oblige councils to provide particular services to disabled people are still in force today.  

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Image by Yomex Owo from Unsplash.