Tuesday, 15 May 2012

UK Equalities Commission concedes to institutional racism implicit in Chancellors 2010 budget

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 Trevor Phillips: EHRC will not legally challenge government regarding breach of the Equality Act.

The Government have broken the law in relation to the Equality Act. The Act’s requirement is that all new Government policies should be subject to rigorous equality impact assessments which identify any potential discrimination and details ways in which discrimination can be mitigated.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission under the uber compliant chairmanship and weak as water leadership of Trevor Phillips, has published a report that examined the extent to which Osborne’s October 2010 budget had complied with equalities legislation.

Both the 1990 Trust and the Fawcett Society wrote to the Government at that time under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) requesting information on the research, process and outcomes of their race and gender equality impact assessments in relation to the spending review. 

In October 2010 the 1990 Trust asked 14 key and comprehensive questions relating to the policies, processes and data used by the Treasury to complete their assessments: identifying any potentially discriminatory impacts of the spending review

Despite repeated FOI requests from the 1990 Trust the Government failed to meet the FOI deadlines for response and when they were eventually forced to do so they provided the following reply;

“I can confirm the Treasury holds the information in scope of your request. We have identified this information as falling within the exemption at section 35(1) (a) of the FOI Act, which relates to policy formulation. This is a qualified exemption and we are required to balance the public interest between disclosure and non-disclosure. By virtue of sections 10(3) of the Act, where public authorities have to consider the balance of the public interest in relation to a request, they do not have to comply with the request until such time as is reasonable in the circumstances”.

This response demonstrates this government’s sheer contempt for any form of real accountability on this issue and its hostility to equality legislation in general. In an attempt to stifle and close down debate on this government’s failure on race equality, we were denied access to documents that would have allowed us to challenge what we predicted at the time as the implicit racism in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.

Using Civil Service flim-flam and obscuration through the application of legal claptrap they refused to provide any evidence of compliance. Government lawyers, senior Civil Servants and Cabinet ministers knew they were in breach of the Equality Act and simply refused to provide the information requested.

The Commission looked at nine policy areas, three of which they determined there was ‘no evidence’ that equality appraisals had been completed. The three key policy areas that were not assed were Housing Benefit caps, the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Award grant (EMA) and the cuts to the Bus Service Operators Grant. There were other areas of concern, and additional policy areas that illustrated a failure to assess gender and disability impacts.

The Commission could issue a statutory notice requiring government to retro fit these policies with equality assessments that take into account and address any areas of disproportionate impact. The Commission decided ironically that it ‘would be disproportionate to take further formal action in these three specific actions’.

I suggest  that no action is to be taken despite flagrant breaches of Equality legislation and huge levels of racism in public policy outcomes as this would ‘disproportionately’ negatively impact on the chances of certain human rights Commissioners getting into the House of Lords.

Trevor Phillips Chair, said: “The key point for the commission’s work is not to judge the past but to transform the future.” Never in the field of race equality have so many ethnic minority communities sacrificed so much for one mans career.

Tory Mayor Boris Johnson described the housing benefit reforms as the “ethnic cleansing of London”. His comments throw into sharp relief the decision of the board not to take Government to court or to impose a statutory notice of discrimination.

The massive discriminatory impact of these policies have ripped educational opportunity out of the hands of aspirant black youth and forced disproportionate numbers of black families to leave their local communities and neighbourhoods.

One has to ask what the Commissioners are doing to defend the public reputation of a Commission that is now joining the ranks of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Press Complaints Commission in the minds of the public, as a toothless regulatory body that has no credibility.

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Baroness Margaret Prosser (left) & Kay Carberry

I happen to know that while other Commissioners like Simon Woolley have fought a desperate rear guard action seeking to keep the Commission focused on regulation and enforcement, Phillips along with, rather surprisingly,  Baroness Margaret Prosser of Battersea OBE, (previously Deputy Secretary General of the Transport & General Workers Union), and Kay Carberry OBE, assistant general secretary of the TUC (previously been the first head of the TUC’s equal rights department, set up in 1988) have backed Phillips in his desire to ensure the Commission operates with ‘a light regulatory touch’.

Disputes with PCS Union staff at the Commission have exemplified some of the worst employer practices seen in years. When one considers this alongside the Commission’s monumental failure, one has to ask the question: why have these two women so blatantly turned against the principles of equality and justice?

The option remains for a body other than the EHRC to legally challenge the Government and Trade Unions should take up that challenge on behalf of a black community that is being smashed on the rocks of austerity, increased levels of racism in public policy and the gross indifference to the law of the Coalition government.

Such ideological hatred of race equality is to be expected form the Tories but the spineless response of Ministers Lynne Featherstone MP and the hapless Minster for Race, Andrew Stunell MP (both Liberal Democrat MPs), demonstrates the vacuous commitment of the Lib Dems to the issue of race equality

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Andrew Stunell MP

Lynne Featherstone
Lynne Featherstone MP  

The Government no doubt will repay Phillips with a seat in the Lords and others will be sent on Government foreign aid trips or offered consultancies as their thirty pieces of silver for keeping their mouths shut and their lawyers in check.... 

For black communities it means even more institutional racism is being endorsed by the political cowardice of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.