Today’s blog post is written by Ojeaku Nwabuzo, a researcher at Runnymede
We welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission's report, published on Monday, which highlights the Treasury’s failings to comply with the public sector equality duty at the time of the Spending Review 2010. In 3 out of the 9 measures the EHRC chose to concentrate on, the Coalition Government was found to not be fully in accordance with the public sector equality duty. This, however, is not the complete story. The public sector cuts in the 2010 Spending Review were unprecedented in their scope and depth. At the time, the Coalition Government planned an estimated £80.5 billion cuts to public spending across 19 government departments. The Commission’s detailed assessment covered only a segment of the Coalition Government’s reforms (read chapter 3 of the report for more details).
Runnymede was 1 of 9 organisations that provided formal submissions to the Commission. One important point that we raised, which was echoed in the Commission report, was the glaring data gaps in the Coalition Government’s assessment of the impact on ethnic minorities. We were shocked at the Coalition’s Government’s lack of analysis of the services and benefits being cut and the numbers of minority ethnic people that would be affected. The Government’s own Overview of the impact of Spending Review 2010 on equalities included just 397 words to the impact of cuts on ethnic minorities.
It is a testament to the speed and depth of government reforms that most organisations we work with are only now coming to terms their massive impact. More than £83 billion is to be cut from public spending during the course of one parliament. It is only now as the NHS, local authorities, charitable trusts, and quangos let voluntary sector organisations know about what budgets are available that the penny drops. Or does not, as many are discovering.
I recently attended a meeting of the London Minority Ethnic Elders Forum where local and national politicians sought to defend the cuts that are being made. The organisations represented at the meeting reported that services to support the most vulnerable were being put at risk.
Following announcements that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is about to face 60% budget cuts, Trevor Phillips yesterday gave a speech arguing that equality and human rights are essential to economic recovery. Making the speech at Policy Exchange, a right-wing think tank, Phillips also argued that critics of the fairness agenda “are just plain wrong”, adding that the electorate want fairness “even in a time of austerity”.
In particular, he stated that he wants to tackle fear among some business people that equality legislation is a barrier to employing disadvantaged groups, saying that [the EHRC] want to make it a competitive advantage to be fair and inclusive." He also said that "equality is not a burden to the nation. It is part of what Britain expects. It is part of doing the right thing in our modern society”.
He also criticized those who approach equality policy from more extreme positions, stating that whilst those “fighting the phantom armies of Political Correctness” need to understand that they’ve lost the argument, those who believe “we are still in the days of Alf Garnett's imagination” need to realise that times have changed.
Phillips also waded into the increasingly polarising debate on multiculturalism triggered by David Cameron’s weekend speech on Islamic extremism, stating that he does not agree with those who believe the Prime Minister was wrong to speak on the issue. He also criticised Shadow Justice Minister Sadiq Khan’s statement that the speech was tantamount to “writing propaganda for the English Defence League”, saying that he “would not have used Sadiq's words and [doesn’t] agree with his sentiments”.
Lord Lester has argued this week that the government’s Public Bodies Bill will threaten the independence of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The Lib Dem peer – and co-founder of Runnymede – added that the equality watchdog has been “singled out for…ministerial interference in a big way”.
The Public Bodies Bill – which focuses on abolishing and reforming many of the UK’s quangos – gives Ministers wide-ranging powers to change the EHRC’s powers, functions and constitution by regulation.
Speaking in the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday, Lord Lester stressed that provisions in the bill “include powers to enable Ministers, if they wished, to hobble the commission and to jeopardise its independence”. Calling this a “retrograde step”, he added that threatening the commission’s independence would be “deplored here and abroad”.
He also acknowledged what he called a “widespread view” that the EHRC has been “poorly led”, calling for “a well qualified chief executive, new commissioners and… some administrative controls now lacking to ensure value for money and the effective discharge of the commission's important functions”.
He also stressed that the EHRC’s functions “secure and promote” the UK’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights.
The government has stated in response that concerns surrounding the bodies’ independence will be discussed further in the bill’s committee stage which is scheduled for 23 November. More information on the passage of the bill is available here.
Home secretary and equalities minister Rt Hon Theresa May MP updated parliamentarians on the government’s work on race equality last week. In a joint meeting between the All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG) on Race and Community and Equalities, May faced questions from MPs and members of the public on issues including stop and search, gypsies and travellers, the Equality Act and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Of particular note, May shed more light on the fate of the EHRC following the government’s recent quango review which announced that the work of the body will be significantly reduced. Stating that the EHRC will be “radically reformed”, she announced that the government is looking at how some of its functions can be filled by the big society.
MPs David Lammy (Labour) and Richard Fuller (Conservative) focused on criminal justice, asking questions on stop and search and incarceration rates respectively. May did not answer Lammy’s question on whether a reduction of monitoring will lead to even higher disporportionality of Black and Asian people stopped and searched. However, May responded to Fuller’s question on the over-representation of Black men in the UK prison system by saying that a “holistic approach” is needed in dealing with the problem which focuses on sentencing, but also on opportunities for young people.
It is worth highlighting however that despite questioning from attendees on the issue, May tended not focus on race equality issues unless pushed. In her opening address to the group, May highlighted the work the government is undertaking in relation to other equality strands – such as gender and LGBT issues – but said nothing on its plans on race. It may be that the issue is not a priority for the government or – as May said in response to a question from Race on the Agenda – it may become more of a priority in the future. However given the stark racial inequalities that exist in the UK today, if now is not the time prioritise race equality, when is?
Runnymede acts as Secretariat for the APPG on Race and Community. For more information on the group, as well as a podcast of last week’s event, visit our APPG webpage.
Posted by Vicki 25 October 2010 : EHRC ,
Today's blog post is written by our public affairs intern Ashley Burton-Lynch
Labour MP David Lammy last week criticised the government for its plans to restructure the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). In a House of Commons debate on quangos, Lammy asked the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude why the government plans to “disembowel the Equality and Human Rights Commission”, suggesting that this could undermine efforts “promote equality on behalf of women and ethnic minorities”.
Francis Maude responded by stating that the EHRC will remain an independent body - albeit a substantially reformed one - due to the need for it to be more efficient and effective. He added that as part of its quango review the government is demanding more rigorous accountability from such organisations.
The EHRC has just recently published its first triennial review assessing how fair Britain is. The report is a comprehensive 700 page document providing evidence showing that whilst there have been positive developments in terms of Britain’s progress to achieving a truly fair and equal society - such as the high achievement rates of Chinese pupils - there are still major areas for concern. In particular, Muslims are highlighted as having the lowest rates of employment of any religious group – 47% for men and 24% for women – whilst five times more black people than white people are imprisoned in England and Wales. You can read Runnymede’s comments on the report here.
Former Shadow Equalities Spokesperson Lynne Featherstone MP has today been appointed as a Junior Home Office Minister with responsibility for equalities.
The Hornsey and Wood Green MP will work under Theresa May MP - the new Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality - although the full details of her role have not yet been made clear.
Featherstone, who was Equalities Spokesperson for two years, wrote a paper for Runnymede in February outlining her party's race equality policies. In the paper she called for the introduction of a "name blank" application policies in employment and accused the Labour government of "badly managing" the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Featherstone also criticised the over-representation of the black population on the DNA database.
Following blog posts written by Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg for the Operation Black Vote blog outlining their parties’ race equality policies, Theresa May has today highlighted how the Tories plan to help BME communities.
May – who is the party’s equalities spokesperson – argues in the post that the Conservative Party is committed tacking discrimination and promoting equality. She states that there is clear evidence that race is a “key influence” on individual achievement, highlighting the disproportionate number of black children excluded from school and the low numbers of BME students attending Oxford University.
She states that the party supported the Equality Act in parliament and adds that the Equality and Human Rights Commission will have a continuing role in protecting the rights of individuals and groups.
Gordon Brown has today written a post for the Operation Black Vote blog on Labour’s policies for BME communities.
In the post, Brown defends Labour’s record on fighting racial prejudice, particularly highlighting the party’s introduction of a duty for all public bodies to tackle racial discrimination, the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, this year’s Equality Act and the establishment of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
On the rise of the far-right, Brown states that Labour is working closely with faith communities, trade unions and community organisers to defeat the BNP.
Harriet Harman MP and the rest of the equalities ministerial team were up for oral questions in the House of Commons yesterday, and faced a barrage of questions on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Following from my earlier post on the EHRC, the equalities watchdog was under further scrutiny from MPs with questions focusing on its expenditure and why the government renewed Trevor Philips chairmanship without putting up the post for open competition. In response to the latter, Harman said that Phillips was retained as chair because she felt “continuity of leadership” was needed.
Also of interest, Lib Dem equalities spokesperson Lynne Featherstone MP echoed comments she made in her essay on the Liberal Democrats and Race Equality, published by Runnymede earlier this month, by saying that the EHRC should devote more time to using its powers to hold businesses and public bodies to account.
The EHRC received some praise however, with Keith Vaz MP welcoming its recent report highlighting the disproportionality of stop and search powers.
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the Equality and Human RIghts Commission (EHRC) has been facing increasing criticism over the past few weeks. The Public Accounts Committee published a report earlier this month on the commission, arguing that “serious errors” were made when setting up the body, and added that “weaknesses” in its controls have continued. Further to this, the Joint Committee on Human Rights yesterday published a report criticising Trevor Phillips’ leadership of the EHRC, stating that his reappointment in 2009 should have been subject to open competition. The pressure looks set to increase with a number of parliamentary questions being recently answered on the body’s efficiency.