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Prepare for a new era of equality in the UK

Theo-GavrielidesGreater understanding about what the government’s Equalities Bill aims to achieve is crucial to the new law working in practice, says Dr. Theo Gavrielides

In June 2007, the Government published ‘Framework for Fairness’, and therein outlined its vision for a new era of equality in Britain.

Without doubt, the Single Equality Bill is the most important piece of anti-discrimination legislation of the last few decades, and probably the biggest attempt to enhance protection against inequality for the years to come.

There has been criticism of the piecemeal and tokenistic approach of Whitehall to human rights and equality.

Although there might be some element of truth in these criticisms, this Bill demonstrates clearly the willingness to take some considerable political risks in the hope of putting it right for equalities. It is indeed encouraging that any government would make such a long-term commitment.

Pullquote-Theo-GavrielidesMany have expressed concerns as to whether the Bill will enhance protection against racial inequality. A considerable section of the Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community feels that the Bill is part of “a wave of mainstreaming of equalities” whereby race equality is being watered down.

The timing of the Bill is also important as it is being introduced within a challenging policy context. For example, BAME communities see the merging of the Commission for Racial Equality into the EHRC, the Single Group Funding recommendation and the move from grants to contacts as a coordinated attempt to dilute the race equality agenda.

Personally, I think it is not the time for conspiracy theories, unsubstantiated claims, power-interest battles and personality clashes.

It is time for evidence based, policy arguments that inform the debates that are currently taking place in the two Houses. It is time for awareness raising and political engagement.

The Bill has the potential to indeed enhance protection against discrimination of BAME groups who are no longer seen in a single dimensional way.

But how many people know about the Bill? Research data collected by Race on the Agenda (ROTA) show that BAME communities and organisations know very little or nothing at all about the Bill. This causes lack of democratic engagement with the Bill.

And this is not just any Bill. I deeply believe that its success is very much dependant on the introduction of a new regulatory framework that is based on the concept of democracy, political engagement, activism and citizenship.

Without awareness and proper information, the Bill will stay on lawyers’ desks and will fail to deliver the vision of a culture of respect for everyone’s rights.

I am convinced that the undermining of the significance of the public’s engagement with the Bill, will cause a regulatory failure. It is naïve to believe that the law alone can bring about change directly in social sub-systems.

This is particularly true for the social sub-systems of Britain’s BAME communities due to their limited openness to external normative interventions.

Our evidence shows that BAME organisations that have been set up to represent BAME communities and empower them to fully and democratically engage in society feel that they have not been adequately involved in the preparation and consultation phases of the Bill.

Consultations continue to target organisations that have the capacity and adequate knowledge and time to participate. Despite the existence of available structures within the BAME third sector, these are yet to be maximised by government.

One of ROTA’s key principles is that we can achieve more by working together. Therefore, ROTA has formed a national coalition of BAME and other equality organisations that are ready to work with government and Parliament to make the Bill more accessible to BAME communities.

Through the coalition, our networks, research programme and partners, we will provide government with evidence based recommendations to ensure that the Bill is as successful as possible. I cannot stress enough how important it is to support this Bill which becomes more and more fragile as April comes closer.

Dr. Theo Gavrielides is Chief Executive of Race on the Agenda (ROTA)

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