Commission launches guidance to help officials make fair financial decisions

New guide to help decision-makers put fairness and transparency at the heart of the difficult financial decisions ahead

04 October 2010

The Commission today launched a short, practical guide to help decision-makers put fairness and transparency at the heart of the difficult financial decisions ahead.

Following the Spending Review next month, government departments and public authorities at both the national and local level will be faced with the task of making savings. The guide launched by the Commission today sets out what is expected of them and others to comply with the public sector equality duties.

The legislation requires that government departments and local authorities have what's called  'due regard'  to the need to eliminate discrimination and promote equality with regard to race, disability and gender as well as promote good relations, in particular tackle prejudice and promote understanding. 

When this is applied in practice, it means that they must assess the equality impact of proposed changes to policies, procedures or practices, such as decisions which  result from a desire to make savings. This could include decisions such  as reorganisations and relocations, redundancies and service reductions programmes.

The law does not prevent government officials from making difficult decisions. Nor does it stop them from making decisions that may affect one group more than another. The law simply requires that such decisions are made in a fair, transparent and accountable way, considering the needs and the rights of different members of the community. Where decisions are found to have a disproportionate impact on a particular group, authorities must consider what actions can be taken to avoid or mitigate the unfair impact.

The guidance goes on to highlight that not only is this approach a legal requirement, it's also a positive opportunity for officials to ensure they take fair decisions in an open and transparent way which will stand up to external scrutiny.

The guidance will also be helpful to voluntary and community groups, trade unions and individuals in helping them hold decision makers to account.

Helen Hughes, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission:

"As we approach the Spending Review, we know all public bodies will be making difficult decisions. This legislation is not designed to prevent reductions in public expenditure. Its role, and the Commission's role as a regulator tasked with monitoring and enforcing the legislation, is to ensure that fairness and transparency are at the heart of decisions. And when decisions do have a disproportionate impact, policy makers think carefully about what they can do to mitigate it. Over the coming months, the Commission will be working hard to ensure those making the tough calls have the information and resources they need to do just that."

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Notes to Editors

To download a full copy of the guidance, please visit: www.equalityhumanrights.com/financialdecisions

The guidance recommends that decision makers not only take into account the current legal obligations under equality legislation, but that they look at any obligations under the Human Rights Act and look ahead to the upcoming changes as a result of the Equality Act 2010 that will extend the same protections to age, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity and religion and belief.

The guidance explains that meeting the legal obligation to show 'due regard' does not necessarily need to take the form of one document called an 'Equality Impact Assessment' (EIA), although the Commission would recommend this as good practice. If an EIA is not adopted, there must be an alternative form of analysis which systematically assesses any adverse impact of change in policy, procedure or practice.

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.  It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.  It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.  The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act.  It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.