The Work of the Home Office - Equalities - Home Affairs Committee Contents


The Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF) is the network of national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on equality and human rights. The network unites some of the major national NGOs tackling discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender, gender identity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation together with leading human rights organisations and advice agencies.[102] We welcome this opportunity to comment on the Government's Equality Strategy, the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the recent announcement, during the course of the budget, of the non-implementation of the Equality Act dual discrimination provision and of a wider review of regulation.

EDF members identify their common policy views on a consensus basis and this submission summarises some of our most significant current concerns. Because of the short time available in which to make the submission, it has been drafted by EDF's secretariat without direct input from individual member organisations.


We welcome the fact that the Coalition Government has published an equality strategy and has appointed a Cabinet-level Minister to lead equality policy, supported by a team of junior ministers. We note that in some areas, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) equality, specific programmes of work have now been published. However, we have a number of concerns and these are growing. In particular:

—  We are very concerned that aspects of the Budget announcement earlier this month treat equality measures as a burden rather than a benefit and by the proposal to review all equality and employment regulation with a presumption that it should be removed;

—  We are concerned that proposals to reform the EHRC may threaten its independence and may remove important aspects of its remit;

—  We are concerned that the late removal of most of the specific equality duties that the Government had proposed in January 2011 will leave public authorities with the (incorrect) impression that they do not have to do much in order to comply with the public sector equality duty; and

—  We believe the Government's equality strategy is weak in some areas, such as race equality.


We welcome the fact that a cross-government equality strategy document has been published and a commitment given to monitor progress against specific targets. We were also pleased to see that an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Home Secretary is overseeing implementation of the strategy. However, we are concerned that the strategy and commitments are weak in some areas, including race, religion or belief, disability and age. We recognise that there are differences, sometimes considerable differences, in the experiences of people who share what the Equality Act 2010 calls a "protected characteristic". To be effective, policies need to take positive account of the fact that people from ethnic minorities or disabled people are not homogenous groups, but they must also recognise that it is not just a question of saying "every individual is different". Extensive evidence shows that systemic barriers affecting particular groups exist[103] and need to be addressed.

We welcome the fact that the cross-government equality strategy treats tackling discrimination and inequality as of benefit not just to individuals but also to business, public bodies and society as a whole. However, the implication of announcements in the "Plan for Growth" published as part of the recent Budget is that the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) view equality rights as a burden on business. We believe there is good evidence available to support the view that equality is a benefit rather than a burden (some of it available in research commissioned by BIS) and are concerned that the Treasury and BIS appear not to be aware of this.


The EDF is very concerned about the recently announced late changes removing large elements of the proposed specific equality duties. Public authorities will still have to meet the requirements of the general equality duty in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. Limiting the specific duties to a nominal level will not provide sufficient clarity for public authorities as to how they should meet their general equality duty. Additionally, there is a clear risk that public bodies are being given the inaccurate impression that they do not have to do much in order to comply with the equality duty. This could seriously undermine the Equality Strategy's stated goal of embedding equality into all areas of public policy.

These risks could be reduced if:

—  Ministers make clear public statements that the changes to the specific duties in no way reduce the effort and commitment that need to go into achieving the three equality duty goals of eliminating discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations; and

—  The Equality and Human Rights Commission publishes a statutory code of practice giving clear guidance based on case law about what is involved in meeting the requirements of the general equality duty.

We recognise that, as part of the Government's localism policy, some functions and decisions are being decentralised from central to local government. If the localism policy is to contribute to the government's equality strategy (and vice versa), it is essential that appropriate protection for minority groups is built in. We are therefore very concerned about the far reaching powers proposed in clause 5 of the Localism Bill that permit the Minister, by order, to "amend, repeal, revoke or disapply" any statutory provision that s/he thinks "prevents or restricts local authorities from exercising the general power". This extensive power is dangerously broad and could be used to disapply important statutory provisions, such as the public sector equality duty, with minimal parliamentary scrutiny. If ministers are concerned that particular statutory provisions conflict with a general power of competence for local government then they should bring forward public proposals to amend the provisions in question, not take powers to disapply almost any provision with little parliamentary scrutiny or public engagement.


EDF supported the creation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and argued for it to have a robust remit and powers. Since its creation we have sought to work closely with the EHRC but also to hold it to account when appropriate.[104] We recognise that the EHRC has not yet achieved what stakeholders hoped for when it was created and that it has experienced a number of governance and management difficulties. Nonetheless, we think it is vitally important that the EHRC retains its independence and has the remit and powers to enable it to be an effective body that both promotes and enforces equality and human rights.

We do not believe that ministers have made a good case for changing EHRC's remit and are concerned that the changes they have proposed will tie the EHRC too closely to a relatively narrow legal compliance role. We are also concerned that some of the changes they are proposing may fetter the EHRC's independence and that their proposal to remove funding for specified parts of EHRC's current work may result in a fall in support for vulnerable individuals facing discrimination.

The EHRC was established by the Equality Act 2006 after extensive debate in both Houses of Parliament and the sections of the Act which dealt with the EHRC were passed with all party support. The parliamentary debate followed a lengthy process of consultation with relevant experts that took into account both European requirements[105] and International requirements[106] for such bodies. In particular the UN Paris Principles (paragraph 3a) require that a national human right institution, such as the EHRC, should be able to:

Freely consider any questions falling within its competence, whether they are submitted by the Government or taken up by it without referral to a higher authority, on the proposal of its members or of any petitioner.

The EHRC is accredited by the United Nations as a national human rights institution. If it is retain this accreditation it must remain independent of ministers (and others) and it must also retain powers that enable it to promote human rights (including equality) as well as take enforcement action in relation to them. It would be highly embarrassing for Britain if the EHRC's UN accreditation were to be put at risk.

Extensive and recent evidence points to persistent and deep-seated problems of inequality in our society.[107] The scale and nature of the challenges around equalities and human rights currently mean we need a body that has both promotional and enforcement remit powers. We can see no reason why it makes sense to narrow the EHRC's equality remit, as the Government proposes to do, and to remove those parts of its equality remit that recognise that advancing equality of opportunity and supporting diversity are beneficial in themselves and not merely legal requirements.

The Government's proposals to remove the EHRC's budgets for grants to facilitate legal casework need to be considered alongside the proposed reforms to legal aid set out in the Ministry of Justice's consultation document.[108] Whilst the fact that legal help is being retained in discrimination cases is welcome, we are concerned that removing legal aid for other linked housing, employment or welfare rights cases will effectively result in a substantial decrease in the number of advice providers and consequently potential clients will find it hard to get information and advice on their rights. In addition, many discrimination cases arise out of or in connection with other legal claims such as housing, employment or welfare benefits. If it is not possible to obtain funding for these parts of the claim it will be very difficult to take action to pursue the discrimination claim yet the GEO's consultation on reforming EHRC suggests that "instead of continuing to provide a separate funding stream for legal advice and advocacy on discrimination cases, we propose that support is solely delivered through civil legal aid".[109] The overall result of these changes will make it much harder for people to bring challenges under the Equality Act 2010.


We greatly regret the announcement during the course of the Budget earlier this month of the decision not to implement the dual discrimination provisions as they are alleged to be a "burden on business" and the message given by aspects of the budget package that equality is a burden rather than a benefit. When people are treated badly or unfairly because of a combination of protected characteristics they, not unreasonably, expect to be able to seek a remedy in the courts. We consider that the law needs to be able to take account of the complexity of life as it is really experienced by people and it needs to be able to reflect the discrimination that has actually occurred. The dual discrimination provisions need not be difficult to understand or burdensome for employers to comply with and would more accurately address real problems that people are experiencing on the ground.

We are also very concerned, as indicated earlier, that aspects of the Budget announcement treat equality measures as a burden rather than a benefit and by the proposal to review all equality and employment regulation with a presumption that it should be removed. No detail is yet available about how this review of regulations will take place but those at risk appear to include regulations on the right to request flexible working, which have been widely recognised by employer and employees as adding considerable value and which the Government had previously pledged to extend.

March 2011

102   EDF members: Advice UK, Age UK, British Humanist Association, British Institute of Human Rights, Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), Citizens Advice, Discrimination Law Association, End Violence Against Women Campaign, Equality Challenge Unit, EREN-The English Regions Equality and Human Rights Network, Friends, Families and Travellers, Fawcett Society, JUSTICE Back

103   How Fair is Britain?, EHRC, 2010 and Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel, Government Equality Office, 2010 are rich sources of evidence Back

104   EDF gave evidence to the JCHR Inquiry into EHRC in 2009 Back

105   Council Directive 2000/43/EC and Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, 5 July 2006 Back

106   Office for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, "Principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for protection and promotion of human rights". Back

107   See sources cited in footnote 2. Back

108   Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, November 2010. Back

109   Building a Fairer Britain: Reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, March 2011. Back

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Prepared 18 April 2011