Commission responds to Spending Review

20 October 2010

Chancellor George Osborne today announced the government's four-year Spending Review to Parliament. Alongside the publication of today's proposals, the Government also published a high level overview of  the impact on equalities designed to look at the effects of the proposals on particular vulnerable groups. The government also indicated that they expected individual government departments to assess the impact on these groups when coming to decisions about their particular settlement.

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

'The Commission welcomes the Treasury's decision to look at the impact on vulnerable groups alongside today's spending review proposals and their expectation that other government departments will do the same. Yes this is a legal obligation, but it's also the right thing to do to ensure that the public has confidence these difficult decisions have been taken in a fair, transparent and evidence based way. Most importantly, where the evidence suggests that there may be some disproportionate impacts, we want to see what they believe can be done to mitigate them.

'Impact assessments are not designed to prevent reductions in public expenditure. Their role, and the Commission's role, is to ensure fairness and transparency are at the heart of those decisions. The Commission will now look at this assessment in detail and come to an independent view as to whether or not it's served its intended purpose.'

Ends

As a result of public sector duties on race, disability and gender, policy makers have a legal obligation to pay 'due regard' to equality when making decisions, including decisions in relation to spending and proposed budget cuts.

When 'due regard' 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. 'Equality Impact Assessments' are a useful means for policy makers to meet this obligation.

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 Equality and Human Rights Commission recently published a short, practical guide to help decision-makers put fairness and transparency at the heart of the difficult financial decisions ahead. For a full copy see: www.equalityhumanrights.com/financialdecisions

For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to Editors

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.