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Policy Response

Runnymede Trust – 21st February 2003

Response to ‘Making it Happen’ – Department of Trade and Industry, Women and Equality Unit Consultation

Consultation paper available at http://www.womenandequalityunit.gov.uk/

Q5        Role and contribution of equality institutions

Are the priorities set out on page 10 of Equality and Diversity: Making it Happen the key priorities for our equality institutions?

Yes

Do you have views on these or other priorities we should consider?

These priorities could be usefully extended however to include a greater emphasis on the need to encourage greater personal responsibility and self-generated organisational change. A preferred approach from any new equality institution(s) would be to develop a new balance along the spectrum that runs from self-regulation at one end to enforcement and sanctions at the other. The advantages of self-regulation include the following.

There is further discussion of this approach in the report of the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain (The Parekh Report Chapter 19) and Equality: a new framework by Bob Hepple, Mary Coussey and Tufyal Choudhury (2000)

A Single Equality Body

Q6        Do you think that a single equality body for Great Britain is a good approach? 

We believe that a Single Equality Body is the best option of the three only under the conditions set out below (Single Equality Act, enforcement powers and a separate Human Rights Commission)

We would also welcome your views on what the advantages and disadvantages of this approach might be.

If there were a single Equality Act, there would be a logical requirement for a single equality body to enforce it. Briefly, the benefits of a single equality act are as follows:

Given the existence of a single equality act, a single equality body could give the principle of equality a higher profile and the body would be less likely to be seen as serving sectional interests. It would speak with a stronger voice and give consistent advice across a range of specific issues. It could readily tackle cases of multiple discrimination and would be more convenient for employers, who at present have to relate to several different commissions. It would mirror the equality units that exist in most public bodies and private-sector companies and administratively there would be efficiency gains.

The main fears about a single equality body as far as race equality issues are concerned are that specialist expertise built up since 1976 might be lost or dissipated and campaigns on race issues might be watered down. There might be wasteful rivalries between different departments in a single body, not least for shares of the overall budget, and the chief officer might not have the credibility required to make authoritative statements about racism. The differences between various kinds of discrimination might be neglected and the distinctive mechanics and components of racism underplayed, and the turbulence caused by major organisational restructuring could set the cause of race equality back many years.

An Equality Act could successfully counteract these fears. Providing there are carefully thought out safeguards to maintain a sharp focus on race equality, we believe that a single equality body would be more powerful and effective than several smaller ones. Without an equality act, any new body would have to reconcile the inconsistencies in legislation and enforcement powers, without the support of a new consensus on the principles of equality, the solidarity of those experiencing discrimination, or the recognition of the multiple identifications which are peoples’ lived experiences that can lead to complex discriminations.

Q7        If you agree that a single equality body should be established, what powers do you consider it should have?

Building on the principles outlined on page 10 of Equality and Diversity: Making it Happen, the single equality body should have the powers and capability to enforce legislation. This should include the power to issue compliance notices and, in the event of these not being effective, to apply to a court or tribunal for an order requiring the body in question to comply. We have also argued elsewhere (The Parekh Report p.198-201) for legislation to require employers to develop ‘employment equity plans’.  Any single equality body would need to have the powers to demand information about these schemes, obtain binding undertakings and to institute proceedings against businesses that have not introduced these plans or have failed to implement them.

            A Single Gateway

Q8        Do you think that a single gateway structure would be a good approach?

No

We would also welcome your views on what the advantages and disadvantages of this approach might be. 

Only as an interim model. The upheaval would not be justified unless it was leading to a more coherent set of structures.

            An Overarching Commission

Q9        Do you think that a structure based on an overarching Commission would be a good approach?

No

Q10      Do you think that there are other organisational models that might work as well or better than those set on in this consultation paper?

Yes

            If yes, please give details:

We are disappointed that there is not a more developed response to a proposed Human Rights Commission. We have argued that there needs to be a HRC for the UK and that its relationship with any proposed single equality body needs to be carefully thought out. We do not recommend that a HRC and a single equality body should be within one institution, but it is important that a separate Human Rights Commission acts in strong partnership with any new single equality body, following the Northern Ireland model mentioned in the consultation document. Furthermore, the paper does not mention the role of Children’s Commissioners and their relationship with a single equality body that would include age as one form of discrimination to be addressed.

Q11      Do you have a clear preference for one of these three options?

A Single Equality Body is the best option if equalities legislation is harmonised (i.e. via a Single Equality Act), that enforcement powers are clearly defined, and a separate but collaborative Human Rights Commission established.

Q12      The government intends to establish any new equality machinery on a GB wide basis, reflecting the devolution settlement.  What arrangements need to be in place to meet the distinctive economic, political, legal and cultural circumstances in Scotland and Wales? 

Runnymede will be conducting a project over the coming months (March-September 2003) to discuss with devolved governments their role in promoting race equality. We would welcome the opportunity to contribute further to this debate on completion of the project. There may be opportunities to collaborate further on exploring the opportunities and challenges presented by the devolution settlement for equality issues.

Q13            Delivering Services at a Local and Regional Level

We would welcome your view on the type of services that need to be delivered at a local or regional level

This is an operational matter that we believe would be best left to the board and officers of any new body

            Enforcement and Promotion

Q14      Do you agree that any new institution should carry out both enforcement and promotion activities?

Yes



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