Schedule 1

Part of Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:45 am ar 16 Mehefin 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 10:45, 16 Mehefin 2009

I beg to move amendment 167, in schedule 1, page 144, line 16, at end insert—

‘(2A) Without prejudice to the operation of sub-paragraph (2), the mental impairment consisting of or resulting from depression that has ceased to have a substantial adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities shall always be treated as if that effect is likely to recur if the person has had within the last 5 years a previous episode of such impairment which had a substantial adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities for a period of 6 months or more.’.

We have already referred to this amendment. It deals specifically with the long-term issue of depression. We tabled the amendment to probe whether the definitions in the Bill would adequately cover all those types of disability that fluctuate, but might recur. The amendment is supported by the Disability Charities Consortium, which says that the Bill covers only recurring or fluctuating conditions if they are based on an underlying long-term impairment—in other words, the impairment is long term while its symptoms or effects fluctuate.

The issue of depression goes to point of what the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon set out when he cited information from the Disability Right Commission. According to my information, people are rarely diagnosed with the related underlying condition, so separate episodes of depression are effectively the effects of the condition and are not covered under the current definition if they do not last for at least 12 months. There are differences of opinion within the medical profession about when episodes of depression are manifestations of an underlying long-term condition, or whether they are discrete episodes. There are often disagreements in court among expert witnesses about the matter.

Acute episodes of depression can be disabling and there is a 70 per cent. chance of having another episode within five years. Depression can carry considerable stigma, in particular with regard to employment. My amendment would rectify that gap in equality legislation, and protect people who experience short-term, recurrent episodes of depression from discrimination arising from their impairment and the surrounding stigma. It focuses specifically on depression alone for the good reasons outlined by the Minister for holding to a definition of “long-term” in the generality. That specific condition is felt not to be well captured by the existing definition.

Having set that out, I am looking to the Minister to say whether she feels that the existing definition of fluctuating conditions, which she touched on in the previous debate, will adequately cover mental illnesses  such as depression, which may not be accurately diagnosed. There is already evidence of cases in which people suffer recurrent episodes but are not adequately protected under the existing law.