A ‘Toothless’ Equality and Human Rights commission
“Toothless” writes Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, discussing section 3 of the ‘Enterprise and Regulatory bill’, which is currently in the House of Lords. The bill which, has not been widely reported on, contains a section on the future of the Equality and Human Right commission. The bill seeks to relieve of commission of its general duties, which includes promoting equality, anti-discrimination and prejudice against disabled, ethnic minorities and other protected groups.
The commission was established by the Equality Act 2006 and came into being in 2007. The commission is a non-departmental body, and is charged with forcing equality and non-discriminatory laws in England, Scotland and Wales. At current, the commission has the right to apply for judicial reviews and intervene in court proceeding, if there is evidence of discrimination.
They also hold public authorities to account in compliance with their positive equality duties, which includes issuing ‘compliance notices’ if public institutions fail to live up to their duties. They will often try to intervene and resolve matters before they reach the courts, offering alternative routes to employees who feel discriminated against. The commission is the main body that investigates discrimination issues, they also seek to promote good relations between local authorities and local communities.
The Baroness writes that the commission will lose 62% of its budget and 72% of its staff. And although she agrees that the budget should be reduced, in line with other public bodies, the cuts proposed for the commission are disproportionate, and would risk making the commission work ‘difficult to carry out’. The government argues that, the scope of the work carried out by the commission is to ‘wide’ and needs to be reduced, in order to make it more ‘effective’ at carrying out its duty.
The reduction would mean that the commission would no longer, promote good relations between committees, work to eliminate discrimination and hate against groups in society including race and disability, work towards enabling disabled people participating in society and campaigns to promote or encourage favourable treatment of disabled people in society.
Baroness Ecce a former Commissioner argues that the ,‘Government claims that the commission has failed to live up to its mandate, but it does have a ‘unique role’ although they don’t spell out what that ‘role’ is be. They also fail to explain how a commission with reduced powers and tools, would be more effective than one with them.’
The changes proposed would mean a repeal of section 3 of the Equalities Act 2006, which could have dire effects on the enforcement of equality legislation in the future. Having a commission with a ‘wide’ mandate is much more effective at creating equality and fighting discrimination according to the International Council on Human Rights Policy. The Baroness ends her article by writing that
“The campaign to secure this (the commission’s wider powers) has only just begun”.