Monday, 31 January 2011

Government breaches FOI guidelines as it fails to disclose race equality information to 1990 Trust.

The Treasury has rather bizarrely responded to the very detailed FOI request by the 1990 Trust seeking information that informed the Treasury’s  "equality impact assessment"  by stating that they do have the information requested but claiming they need more time and suggesting that they may not release all of the information requested claiming public interest immunity. Both letters are copied below.

The fact that they are seeking to with hold various Government assessments and guidance is puzzling as I can see no reason why there would be any harm to the public interest by publishing this information. These documents will allow us to assess the quality and accuracy of the information that has informed the Treasury's impact assessment.  This information should be in the public domain as it is vital in allowing black organisations to properly assess the extent to which individual departmental spending cuts are fair and free from any racial bias or potential discriminatory impact. 
The inference I draw for the stalling of Government in providing this information is that the quality of policy research that informed their assessment was poor or alternatively the Civil Service advice on potential discriminatory impact was ignored. Either way the Government has chosen not to provide the Trust with any of the information requested. This blanket initial refusal seems very odd given that most of the information should be non controversial if a proper EQIA has been completed.
With the Government already under pressure from the Equality and Human Right Commission after its announced that it would be conducting a formal investigation into the Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review after their failure to demonstrate full compliance with the Equality Act 2010. It can only be assumed that the Commission requested information in this regard and found that information wanting. 
This follows hot on the heels of the Fawcett Society application to the High Court for a judicial review. Fawcett has argued that Government failed to take women’s equality into account in its to budgetary policies that are seeing women disproportionately bearing the brunt of cuts in jobs, benefits and public service.
These failures are replicated in the areas of disability and age. The reality is that we have Government that has, despite pre and post election promises  singularly failed to put fairness and equality at the centre of its policy agenda.
The really worrying aspect of all this is that local authorities taking their queue from Government are also failing to conduct in depth impact assessments.
The fear is that the current spending cuts will see black communities already suffering acute socioeconomic deprivation will endure even greater levels of poverty and unemployment as a result of these inequitable public spending cuts.
I believe the Governments proposed cuts have no economic justification. This in my view is a racist and deeply ideological agenda that is a continuation of the 1980’s Thatcherite project of decimating the state. The fact is there are a myriad of ways in which the national debt could be paid without targeting the poor and the vulnerable. This Government has decided that the current crisis offers them sufficient cover to attack the poor with deeply regressive economic policies, vindictive welfare reforms and by pricing the poor out of education.
The consequence of such deeply unfair cuts are already making themselves felt right across the country with black voluntary organisations being closed down or facing drastic cuts to their funding. The consequences of these cuts are massive redundancies facing thousands of black public sector workers and the withdrawal of critical front line services.
The Government needs to be told in no uncertain terms that unfair cuts will have unfair consequences. Poor communities already grievously stressed as result of long term unemployment and large scale poverty will simply explode in frustration and anger.  Inequality and racism will thrive like a virus inculcated by a Government whose disregard for race equality is set to condemn future generations into a life lacking in both hope and opportunity.
So we will await the Governments full response and the 1990 Trust will be leading a delegation of black organisations to meet with the EHRC to demand that the Government is forced through legal action to uphold and adhere to UK equality legislation.


The Government failed to meet the deadline of 24th December and have contacted the Trust to say they are not sure when they will be able to provide the information we have requested. This is scandalous and completely unacceptable.  More than a month later the 1990 Trust still have no idea when the Government will conclusively respond. They have given no date when they are likely to respond as required by FOI legislation and guidelines.

I believe that the Government is unable to answer the questions the Trust has put to them largely because their conclusions published in their race equality impact assessments cannot be justified nor do they have the policy research that would substantively inform such conclusions.  The other reason could be that the Government acted against the advice given by Civil Servant's who may have identified huge levels of disproportionate impact on black and ethnic minority communities . This advice may have been ignored by ministers and hence their reluctance to provide the information requested by the Trust.

Whatever the reason the fact that this Government who have publicly committed to a degree of " transparency and openness" should now be seeking to deprive the public access to such important information smacks of a Government with something to hide.  The Trust will be challenging the Governments approach requesting an immediate internal review and pressing them to disclose the information requested. They have 20 days to respond so watch this space.

Here is the original letter from the Trust to George Osbourne
1990 Trust
CAN Mezzanine,
49-51 East Road, Old Street,
London N1 6AH
Thursday, 28 October 2010

Request under the Freedom of Information Act

George Osborne MP,
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1 Horse Guards Road
London SW1A 2HQ

Dear George Osborne MP,

Treasury document – ‘Overview of the impact of the spending review 2010 on

We refer to the above overview document. Please could you clarify that the
document constitutes the Treasury’s Equality Impact Assessment and that no further
Equality Impact Assessment will be produced by the Treasury in respect of the
equality impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Equality Impact Assessments are not only important in terms of due regard to the
legal duty to eliminate discrimination, but also in respect of improving representation
and participation of ethnic minority people in public life. Such assessments are
known to result in efficiency savings and should have been an integral part of the
Comprehensive Spending Review.

The importance of this has also been noted by
Theresa May MP (Minister for Women and Equalities) who in a letter to you dated 9th
June, reminding you and colleagues of the legal requirements and necessity of
impact assessments, asserted that there were “real risks that women, ethnic
minorities, disabled people and older people will be disproportionately affected” in
relation to spending cuts.
We are concerned that based on the Treasury’s own document, a comprehensive
race equality assessment has not been conducted in respect of the significant cuts
announced that are likely overall to have a disproportionate adverse impact on ethnic
minority communities in the UK.
In respect of the impact document, we would be grateful if you would provide the
following further information:

1. What guidance has been provided to every Government department
regarding the duty to conduct race equality impact assessments and when
was this provided? Please provide a copy of the guidance.

2. We refer to paragraphs 1.8 of the document in respect of the screening
exercise undertaken in relation to tax and welfare measures assessing
whether any changes would have any particular impact upon men or women,
3. or people of different ethnic origins. Please provide copies of the screening
exercise (questions and outcomes data).

4. We refer to paragraph 1.9 in respect of public service pensions. Please
provide the screening exercise (questions and outcomes data).

5. With regard to paragraph 1.10 referring to spending reductions being made in
areas of departmental policy, please provide the qualitative assessment data
and outcomes referred to.

6. With regard to paragraph 1.12, please provide copies of the source data from
the various Government departments referred to. We note that this data
informed the decisions made by Minsters at various points regarding
spending levels and other policies.

7. Please confirm that the document does not equality impact assess the impact
of the cuts on services or differential outcomes of access to those services. If
so, please provide the reasons why?

8. How will the Treasury seek to ensure that any disproportionate impact
identified by the CSR is mitigated by the Government departments in their
subsequent policy decisions?

9. With regard to paragraph 1.15 please provide a comprehensive list of all
government departments included and not included in the qualitative

10. We note with concern that the Home office and Ministry of Defence (amongst
other departments) have not been included in the assessment. Given the
public service functions, organisational structure as major employing bodies
and size of these departments, please provide reasons why they were not
included in the initial qualitative impact assessment?

11. If the Government department is unable to mitigate the disproportionate
adverse impact of the policy decision due to the extent of the cuts imposed by
the CSR, will the particular spending cut be capable of review/ rescission by
the Treasury in order to mitigate the impact. If not, why not?

12. What external stakeholders (non Governmental) were consulted by the
Treasury to inform the findings in the document and what were the results?

13. What is the Treasury’s action plan in respect of findings of disproportionate

Whilst this letter specifies race equality impact assessments in particular, we would
expect the same to apply to the duty to conduct equality assessments in order to
have due regard to the public sector gender and disability duties.

Yours sincerely,

David Weaver
Chair 1990 Trust
Cc Permanent Secretaries