Equality – Going, going, gone

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19 November 2012 by Wanda Wyporska
So David Cameron thinks Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) are yet more ‘red tape’? Along with provisions in the Equality Act 2010 that protect education workers and others from third party harassment. Along with the ability to use statutory questionnaires that enable workers to discover whether they are being discriminated against or not receiving equal pay for equal work.

Have I mentioned the proposed cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the closure of its helpline? Taken together, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is a concerted effort to destroy the equalities rights we have fought for over the past decades.

If you are unlucky enough to be discriminated against, in the future you may face costs of £1,200 to go to an Employment Tribunal, you can’t get much help from the EHRC anymore and many local advice services are closing down. Of course, I would say ‘join a union’, but actually, your choices are now limited. Such attacks on employment rights and paying for access to justice were but a prelude to the Chancellor’s great fantasy – sign away your employment rights for a mess of potage.

By assigning Equality Impact Assessments to history and placing these responsibilities in the hands of ‘smart people in Whitehall’, Cameron is removing chances to identify where policies will disproportionately hit disabled, BME, older, younger and LGBT communities, as well as single parents, those living in poverty, women and many of society’s most vulnerable groups.

Now don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are ‘smart people in Whitehall’, but are they representative of the communities on whose behalves they will be making swathing decisions? Where is the accountability?

There is also a consultation on repealing the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), established as part of the legacy of campaigning around the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. Quite simply the PSED places an obligation on public sector bodies and those carrying out the functions of public bodies under Section 149 to:

  • (a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;
  • (b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
  • (c) foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

By even proposing to repeal this fundamental part of the Equality Act 2010, the Coalition Government has lost any pretence of being committed to equality. Ceri Goddard, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, captures it perfectly in terms of gender equality.

“The government’s decision to ‘call time’ on equality impact assessments, in favour of allowing ‘smart people in Whitehall’ to decide if they are needed is staggering both for its paternalism and the implication that the judgement of a cabinet made up of 19 men and just 4 women doesn’t need a further check and balance when it comes to women’s equality.”

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