Welfare Reform Bill

Memorandum submitted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (WR 50)

Scope of this response 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is responding to the Welfare Reform Bill in line with its statutory duties and powers, under the Equality Act 2006, and responsibilities as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), as set out in the Paris Principles.

There is strong evidence to show clear links between having a protected characteristic, not being in employment and having a low income. Groups within our remit are therefore likely to be overrepresented amongst those who require welfare support. The following evidence supports this view:

· Lone parent households with dependent children had the highest percentage of workless households at 39.7 per cent [1] . 90 per cent of lone parent households are headed by women.

· Families with a disabled member, lone parent households, and some ethnic minorities are also at greater risk of persistent poverty [2] .

· The employment rate for disabled men without qualifications halved between the mid-1970s and early 2000s [3] .

1. Equality Act 2010 

Key points:

· The Commission welcomes the government’s publication of an assessment of the equality impact of each of the provisions in the Welfare Reform Bill. However, it would have been more helpful for these assessments to be published alongside the Bill. In addition, we would advise the government to publish an assessment of cumulative impacts on equality across all provisions in the Bill.

· As a matter of best practice, the government may wish to consider carrying out an assessment of the impact on equality on the principal, if not all, secondary legislation needed to implement the policies reflected in the Bill.

 

1. 1 Demonstrating Due Regard

As the regulator with responsibility for monitoring and enforcing equality legislation, the Commission is concerned to ensure that the government has met its obligations under the public sector equality duty and will continue to meet its obligations under the public sector equality duty.

The Commission has been advised by legal counsel (see appendix 1) that three areas may be relevant here and we seek assurances that the government has met requirements in each of these areas [1] [1]:

I. The collection of data necessary to adequately determine impact on certain groups.

II. Consideration of the equality objectives when assessing equality impact, including: to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups; to take steps to take account of disabled persons disabilities even where that involves treating disabled people more favourably than other persons etc.

III. The completion of a cumulative assessment of impact to demonstrate the full impact of proposals on protected groups and how they interact.

The Commission is particularly concerned that the government will not know the full impact of the Bill proposals unless data is collected for all protected groups. For example, the government states it is not able to measure the extent of the adverse impact of the housing and benefit cap on ethnic minority households because the sample size is not large enough.

The Commission notes that in some instances the equality assessment of impact found measures will disproportionately affect groups with protected characteristics. For example, the government has estimated that 30% of the households affected by the benefit cap will contain ethnic minority members, while ethnic minorities comprise less than 10% of the total population. [2] [2] The Commission looks forward to hearing more detail from the government as to how it intends to mitigate this impact.

Timing

In order to meet its obligations, case law is clear that the consideration of the impact on equality must be done before and at the time a decision is taken and not after the event.  This allows the assessment to be considered as the Bill is being drafted, so any negative impacts can be mitigated, if possible and appropriate.  Producing an assessment after a decision has been reached will not achieve compliance with the duty [3] .

1.2 Secondary legislation

The heavy reliance on secondary legislation may impede the government’s ability to assess the total impact of the measures on protected groups and to assess compliance with equality legislation Convention rights. Given this, the Commission advises that the due regard must be paid to equality objectives during the drafting of the secondary legislation.

2. Personal Independence Payment (PIP) 

Key points:

· The Commission welcomes the government's 'steadfast' commitment to 'the principles of the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) as a non-means-tested cash benefit contributing to the extra costs incurred by disabled people' [1] .

· We also support the principle that the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), to replace the DLA, will continue to be paid to people in and out of work.

· However, the Commission is concerned about the indirect introduction of the medical model of assessment.

· The Commission is concerned that the withdrawal of mobility allowance may seriously limit people’s independence and autonomy.

2.1 Assessment

The Commission welcomes the proposal to develop the assessment 'in collaboration with a group of independent specialists in health, social care and disability, including disabled people' [2] .

The Commission also welcomes the fact that DLA 'will continue to take account of the social model of disability' [3] and that the assessment will 'reflect the impact of barriers disabled people may experience' but is concerned that assessments which ‘consider an individual’s ability to carry out key everyday activities’ [4] could indirectly build in the medical model to the assessment process. An approach which focuses on the provision of resources/support to enable disabled people to overcome socially constructed barriers e.g. inaccessibility, unemployment, socio-economic disadvantage, lack of educational opportunities would ensure compatibility with the Government’s commitment.’

2.2 Mobility allowance

The Commission welcomes the government's recent announcement that the mobility allowance for people in residential homes in October 2012 will not be removed as planned [5] .

The general principles underpinning the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities People (UNCRPD) are described as ‘respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons’ and the ‘full and effective participation and inclusion in society’ and ‘respect for difference and acceptance of disability as part of human diversity and humanity’ (Article 3). Furthermore, the Convention guarantees a number of important and fundamental rights, including personal mobility (Article 20); respect for privacy, home and the family (Article 22-23); health (Article 25); and work and employment (Article 27) [6] .

The Commission is concerned that the withdrawal of mobility allowance may seriously limit people’s independence and autonomy, for example, increasing the risk of social exclusion and isolation for disabled people, including children, in residential care.

It is unclear as to whether the withdrawal of the mobility allowance may still be implemented in the long term and advises that the government withdraw this measure entirely.

3. Impact on children 

Key point:

· The Commission is concerned that very little regard has been given to the impact on children whose parents or carers will be affected by the changes proposed in the Bill.

3.1 Childcare

While the Commission welcomes the government's focus on supporting people back into employment, we would advise the government that proposed welfare changes need to be underpinned by provision of affordable childcare. The cost of childcare is already a barrier for some parents and a reduction in support for childcare costs may create a disincentive to work.

The Commission published ‘Working Better - Childcare Matters: improving choices and chances for parents and children’ [1] in November 2010. This report assesses whether current provision helps or hinders parents’ wishes to combine work and caring. It also highlights the importance of good quality childcare in closing the educational attainment gaps between rich and poor.

The report highlights the extent to which affordable, accessible and quality childcare is a barrier to paid employment for too many parents, and finds that:

· Around a fifth of parents who pay for childcare said that they struggled to meet their childcare costs. This proportion was significantly higher among lone parents, families with low incomes and those living in deprived areas.

· In England, 28% of non-working parents say they are not working because of inadequate childcare provision.

· Over half of non-working lone mothers say they would prefer to work if they could find good quality, affordable and reliable childcare.

The Commission’s own evidence strongly indicates that increasing access to childcare to low income and certain ethnic groups will help close educational attainments gaps, yet take up remains low amongst these groups:

· By the age of 5, only 35% of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals achieved a good level of development compared to 55% of pupils not eligible. [2]

· Formal childcare use is lower in the most deprived areas, 34% compared to 53% in the least deprived areas.

· 58%of families with annual incomes of more than £45,000 used formal childcare compared with 31% of families with annual incomes below £10,000. [3]

· Ofsted has found the quality of childcare is generally poorer in the most disadvantaged areas.

· Children who did not experience any pre-school provision demonstrated lower cognitive abilities and poor social development at school entry [4]

· Pilot projects testing the extension of free hours in good quality settings to 2-year-olds in disadvantaged areas found improvements in vocabulary and better parent-child relationships. [5]

The Commission would look to the government to build in consideration of these issues as the welfare reform programme moves forward.

About the Equality and Human Rights Commission 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006.  The Commission works to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations, and promote and protect human rights. 

As a regulator, the Commission is responsible for enforcing equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encouraging compliance with the Human Rights Act. 

The Commission has achieved ‘A’ status accreditation as a National Human Rights Institution, enabling us to participate in the United Nations Human Rights Council, and to undertake monitoring of the UK’s human rights obligations.

We also give advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.

April 2011


[1] Office for National Statistics, news Release ‘841,000 households workless due

[1] to health-related reasons’, 08 September 2010, p2.

[2] EHRC, Examining the role of grandparents in families at risk of poverty, March 2010, p3, 4.

[3] EHRC, Triennial Review 2010, October 2010 ‘How fair is Britain’, p 380.

[1] [1] Karon Monaghan QC, Advice In the Matter of the Welfare Reform Bill, 04 April 2011, p2

[2] [2] House of Commons Written Question 14 March 2011, www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110314/text/110314w0004.htm#11031440000680

[3] R (Brown) v Secretary of State for Work & Pensions [2008] EWHC 3158 (Admin)

[1] DWP, Government’s response to the consultation of Disability Living Allowance reform, p15.

[2] DWP, Government’s response to the consultation of Disability Living Allowance reform, p4.

[3] The social model of disability says that disability is created by barriers in society : the environment - including inaccessible buildings and services ; people’s attitudes - stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice ; organisations - inflexible policies, practices and procedures.

[3] odi.dwp.gov.uk/about-the-odi/the-social-model.php

[4] DWP, Government’s response to the consultation of Disability Living Allowance reform, p4.

[5] DWP, Government’s response to the consultation of Disability Living Allowance reform, p6.

[6] Karon Monaghan QC, Advice In the Matter of the Welfare Reform Bill, 04 April 2011, p47.

[1] EHRC, Working Better - Childcare Matters: improving choices and chances for parents and children’ , November 2010.

[2] EHRC, Triennial Review 2010, October 2010 ‘How fair is Britain’, p 329.

[3] DSCF/NatCen, Speight, S., Smith, R., La Valle, I., Schneider. V. and Perry. J., with Coshall. C. and Tipping. S., Childcare and Early Years Survey of Parents 2008 , 2009.

[4] EHRC, Johnson, P. And Kossykh, Y, Early years, life chances and equality: a literature review , 2008. .

[5] EHRC, Working Better - Childcare Matters: improving choices and chances for parents and children’ , November 2010.