The Equality and Human Rights Commission have published the findings of an investigation into whether the UK Government have complied with their public sector equality duties in various recent policy changes. The answer? Mostly yes.
To remind ourselves, at the time of the 2010 public spending review, public bodies, including the Treasury, were subject to race equality, sex equality and disability equality duties. These obliged the Government to demonstrate that they had fully considered the potential effects of their decisions on women, minority ethnic groups and disabled people, and that any decisions with an effect on these groups could be justified.
The Review was the first time an assessment of this kind and scale had ever been undertaken. The methodology included “unprecedented access” to confidential documents from Treasury and other government departments and discussions with ministers, the chief secretary to the Treasury, and senior civil servants from the Treasury, Department of Work and Pensions, and Ministry of Justice.
In six cases the Commission concluded that the UK Government complied with their equality duties:
- removing Child Benefit from households with a higher rate taxpayer;
- reform of Legal Aid;
- the £2.5 billion pupil premium for disadvantaged children;
- removal of mobility component of Disability Living Allowance from claimants in residential care homes;
- 10% reduction in Council Tax Benefit expenditure, and localisation; and
- limiting the contributory Employment and Support Allowance to one year.
However, the Commission found that this was not the case in the following policies:
- introduction of a household benefits cap (no gender analysis evident);
- changes to bus service operators grant (no disability impact assessment);
- replacing EMA with local discretionary funds (no reference to ethnicity, gender or disability).
Despite these failings, the Commission has decided that it would be “disproportionate” to take any further formal action in these three specific decisions, as the Government has undertaken to work with the Commission to address the issues raised by the report.
Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, of course…
The full report “Making fair financial decisions” can be downloaded in PDF here.
Following the review, the government concluded that it should continue to fund information and advice to potential victims of discrimination and human rights breaches, but that the EHRC should not be funded to deliver this service. Therefore the government decided to commission a new service from a private sector or civil society organisation or a combination of both, and issued a contract notice on 27 September 2011.