6 Equality and Human Rights Commission
Role of the Equality and Human
Rights Commission (EHRC)
111. The EHRC was established under the Equality
Act 2006, and works within the statutory framework for protecting
equality and human rights, for setting standards, and for holding
public and private bodies to account in meeting them. The EHRC's
own written evidence stated:
The Commission sees its evolving regulatory role
as helping organisations achieve what they should, not trying
to catch them out if they fall short. We view legal action as
a last resort, when persuasion and advice have not proved effective.
Section 3 of the Equality Act 2006 sets out the general
duty of the EHRC:
The Commission shall exercise its functions under
this Part with a view to encouraging and supporting the development
of a society in which
(a) People's ability to achieve their potential
is not limited by prejudice or discrimination;
(b) There is respect for and protection of each
individual's human rights;
(c) There is respect for the dignity and worth
of each individual;
(d) Each individual has an equal opportunity
to participate in society; and
(e) There is mutual respect between groups based
on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect
for equality and human rights.
Proposed changes to the EHRC
112. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
sought to remove Section 3 of the Equality Act 2006, thereby removing
the general duty of the EHRC. After a House of Lords amendment
opposing its removal was passed, the Government accepted that
it should remain. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for
Women and Equalities, Jo Swinson, told the Commons:
Although it is accepted by all that the duty has
a symbolic rather than a practical effect, it is clear that considerable
importance is attached to this overarching statement. We maintain
that the commission's monitoring and reporting should be carried
out in respect of its core equality and human rights duties. The
EHRC will continue to be required to monitor and report on changes
in society, but, as has been agreed to in the Bill, that should
relate to the areas that it is uniquely placed to influence and
change: equality; diversity and human rights.
113. However, the Government is removing from
the EHRC's remit various other responsibilities, including its
helpline, funding for voluntary organisations and legal advice,
and conciliation and mediation services. Mark Hammond, Chief Executive
of the EHRC, told us that the helpline had been transferred to
the Government Equalities Office, "which has let a contract
to others to deliver a helpline service".
Fair Play South West argued that the EHRC had been under-resourced
since its inception:
The EHRC, which is the enforcement agency established
under the Equality Act 2006, was under-resourced and not well
managed when it took over from the three previous enforcement
agencies (for gender, race and disability equality) and has since
been systematically undermined by resource cuts and too much Government
interference in its activities.
114. The Public and Commercial Services Union
(PCS) also expressed concern over the EHRC's future standing:
The work of the EHRC is now under threat. The Government
plans to slash its budget by 68% (compared to when it was set
up in 2007). It is likely to: lose more than half its workforce;
reduce its legal enforcement ability; close its Helpline to the
public, business, and the public sector; lose its regional offices;
end its grants to charities or projects disability groups and
community organisations that are often the first port of call
for victims of discrimination and harassment.
Sarah Veale, from the TUC, spoke in stark terms about
the consequences of the budget cut on the EHRC:
[The EHRC] have had a very significant budget cut.
They have also been put on zero budget measures for next year,
which is pretty drastic. [...] The fear, though, is that the cut
is so huge that the whole organisation has been knocked sideways.
GETTING THE EHRC MESSAGE ACROSS
115. The EHRC is regarded as providing high quality
advice, but we heard evidence that it is less good at ensuring
that it reaches the appropriate people. For example, the EHRC
has published guidance for small and medium businesses to explain:
legal definitions of discrimination and unlawful behaviour in
the Equality Act; the role as an employer under the Equality Act;
and the role as a service provider under the Equality Act.
However, when we heard from representatives of small and medium-sized
businesses, our witnessesfounders and directors of their
companiesdid not use the EHRC's resources, and one had
not even heard of the EHRC.
When questioned about this, Mark Hammond, Chief Executive of the
We are very conscious that we need hugely to improve
and enhance the relationships we have with the CBI, the FSB and
the chambersall those organisations. [...] We are not precious
about how the information, advice, and support get to SMEs, particularly.
If it comes through us, that is great, and we can provide material
and assistance to the employee organisations that they look to.
[...] The impact for us is the same: getting that advice and support
out to SMEs, sole traders and all those who might need it.
Karen Jochelson, from the EHRC, agreed that the crucial
point is that the EHRC's message is delivered:
We are a small organisation, and there is a very,
very big world out there. For us, it is about how you get your
message across most effectively.
116. The EHRC carries out substantive inquiries
into different sectors. Karen Jochelson told us about the EHRC's
inquiry into the meat and poultry industry. The Report made recommendations
that included: processing firms and agencies to use fair and transparent
recruitment practices and to provide workers with a safe working
environment; supermarkets to improve their support to and auditing
of suppliers; and the Government to provide sufficient resources
to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) to deliver its task
of safeguarding the welfare and interests of workers.
Karen Jochelson explained the subsequent work that EHRC undertook
with the relevant bodies, which brought the EHRC's work to the
forefront of those in the industry:
We set up a task force after our inquiry report was
delivered, which drew together supermarkets, the labour providers,
processors in meat and poultry, and various trade associations,
and the trade unions who worked in the industry. They agreed that
some guidance arising from the problems that we had identified
would be very helpful. We published that guidance two months ago,
and we calculate we probably reached 80% of the processing firms
and about 2,000 labour providers. The way we were able to do this
is: our guidance now sits on the supermarkets' supplier intranet,
which is not something we would have access to except through
the supermarkets. The British Meat Processors Association, the
British Poultry Council and the Association of Labour Providers
all have our guidance on their website, and they have advertised
it through their own web and newsletters. To me, it is the fact
that our guidance was supported in the first place by that industry.
It has helped us to figure out the best way of disseminating it,
and it has been disseminated with its support, which is what is
going to make it most effective, but if you are not in that industry,
the chances are that you are not going to have read it.
117. We welcome the fact that
the Government reconsidered its intention to repeal the Equality
and Human Rights Commission's general duty, as set out in Section
3 of the Equality Act 2006. However, we remain concerned at other
Government measures that are weakening the EHRC's ability to carry
out its general duty. In this Report, we have recommended that
the EHRC should be providing: enhanced information and advice
covering career strategies; equal pay audit and equal pay best
practice advice; the monitoring and assessment of the Public Sector
Equality Duty (PSED); data transparency advice; and support to
SMEs. Funding is tight, but if the EHRC is to carry out all of
these activities effectively, it needs to be better resourced.
We welcome initiatives such as the EHRC's recent work with the
meat and poultry industry, and recommend that that EHRC actively
seek funding from other private business sectors for similar funding.
173 Ev 180 Back
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