Creating a fairer Britain
25 November 2010
The Equality and Human Rights Commission today started a process to carry out a formal, independent assessment of the extent to which the Treasury has met its legal obligations to consider the impact on protected groups of decisions contained in the Spending Review.
The assessment is to be conducted under powers granted to the Commission under section 31 of the 2006 Equality Act.
Under the public sector equality duties, covering race, gender and disability, the Treasury, like all public bodies, has a legal duty to pay 'due regard' to equality and consider any disproportionate impact on protected groups when making decisions, including decisions about the budget. Where decisions are found to have a disproportionate impact on a particular group protected by the legislation, public bodies must consider what actions can be taken to avoid, mitigate or justify that impact.
The Commission’s role is to ensure that the Treasury has complied with its legal obligations; the start of this assessment should not be taken as an indication that the Treasury has not done so. The assessment is an opportunity for the Commission to continue its ongoing constructive work with the Treasury to evaluate what steps it has undertaken to comply with the legislation and identify any potential opportunities for improvement. This process will enable lessons to be learnt across Government to improve outcomes for protected groups by putting fairness and transparency at the heart of difficult decisions.
In practical terms, the assessment will be governed by terms of reference, which will be published shortly after consultation with HMT, as required by the 2006 Act. As the assessment unfolds, the Commission will have access to all the relevant information it needs to make a conclusive assessment. Once the assessment is complete, the Commission will report its findings and may make recommendations. If the assessment finds a breach, the Commission can serve a compliance notice, or enter into a binding agreement with the Treasury for it to take steps to avoid further breaches. If a public authority such as the Treasury fails to comply with a compliance notice or the binding agreement, the Commission can apply to a court for an order compelling them to comply.
The Commission aims to publish its final report next Summer.
- Ends -
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.
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 exercising their functions, including making 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: www.equalityhumanrights.com/financialdecisions
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 reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.