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Last chance to save race laws

Karen-ChouhanCampaigners are mounting a last minute drive to maximise responses to a government consultation, which critics fear will could lead to a watering-down of Britain’s hard fought-for race laws

With only three full working days left before the Equality Bill consultation closes next Wednesday, people are being urged to have their say before it’s too late.

Karen Chouhan (pictured above), from Equanomics UK, said today that there was “an urgent need” for government ministers to know exactly what Britain’s Black communities thought about the proposed changes.

Current proposals would allow all public authorities to pick and choose which areas of equality – such as gender, disability, age or sexuality – they wish to prioritise. That means town halls and health authorities could opt to sideline race equality if they didn’t feel it was locally important.

Public bodies would also be able to stop monitoring the ethnicity of their staff by grade, and abandon their Race Equality Schemes. Critics say this fatally undermines the 2000 Race Relations (Amendment) Act, which was introduced as a result of the Stephen Lawrence public inquiry.

The government argue that current race laws are too “process-orientated” and need to be simplified as they merge different equalities strands together.

Equanomics is holding two final public consultation meetings next week, on Monday 28th and Tuesday 29th September, in conjunction with a number of regional race equality organisations, to boost the consultation response.

Chouhan has also released a model consultation response (see below) which individuals are asked to adapt and personalise. If people are really pushed for time, it is better to send the suggested response un-adapted than not to send any response at all.

Writing on this blog last month, Chouhan voiced her fears that the new Equality Bill would set back the drive to combat institutional racism. But in an article we published yesterday, Dr Theo Gavrielides from the organisation Race on the Agenda (ROTA), takes a different view, arguing that the Equality Bill is a step forward. You can read ROTA’s response to the consultation here: ROTA – GEO Response WtRC Sept 09.

Readers of OBV Blog are being urged to make your response to the government consultation. You can respond by visiting the Equalities Office website here or email enquiries@geo.gsi.gov.uk before 5pm on Wednesday 30th September.

You are also invited to attend the Equanomics UK consultation events below (both run from 2pm to 5pm, and are free):

  • London – Monday 28th September – CAN Mezzanine, 49-51 East Road, Old Street N1 6AH
  • Leicester – Tuesday 29th September – Queens Building, De Montfort University, The Gateway, LE1 9BH

Please see below, a background to the consultation (for your own information; not to be sent to the government), and a model consultation response, both drafted by Equanomics UK.

BACKGROUND

For many years race equality activists had argued that the Race Relations Act 1976 was inadequate in tackling racial inequalities in the UK. The murder of Stephen Lawrence propelled the debate and the Lawrence Inquiry called by Jack Straw MP resulted in the most thorough piece of race equality legislation across Europe – The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

Its’ particular strength was the tools it offered to tackle institutional racism – as defined by the Lawrence inquiry, which said that this was at the heart of the failures of policing in the Stephen Lawrence case.

Many other British institutions also admitted institutional racism to be a factor in their organisations. The then Commission for Racial Equality developed codes and guidance for the new Act. Millions of pounds have been spent by public authorities in meeting the requirements of the Act including for Race Equality Schemes.

Now we potentially have a new Act which if it gets passed may not have any requirements for Race Equality Schemes or impact assessments. This is because 1. The new government will have the power to decide what specific duties are attached to the Act 2. There are current proposals to replace schemes with ‘objectives’ set by the authorities themselves.

This could mean that the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 becomes redundant and requirements designed to tackle institutional racism over the last 10 years will disappear.

Previously we have written about the growing questioning and denials of institutional racism, which seem to be part of a trend to move away from a focus on race equality and particularly structural race equality.

Previous documentation has explained this in more detail, but if you require any further questions please let us know. The dilemma we face as race equality protagonists is that the bill itself does actually make some improvements in general but particularly so for other equality areas and this is to be welcomed.

However, where the existing race equality duties have been shown to be effective then there should be no regression: no dilution and no moving away from a clear statement of these duties. Where the current race equality duties could be better/stronger/more effective and the government’s proposals includes such improvements then these should be welcomed.

So we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water but the bill and its provisions for race equality must be tightened and we should continue to lobby before and after it becomes an Act. Timetables are in previous documents.

We agree that the public sector equality duty should apply for all protected grounds. This should encourage public bodies to recognise needs of Black and ethnic minority people who face disadvantage and discrimination and/or have particular needs where the ground of race is combined with one or more other protected grounds, for example sex, disability, age, sexual orientation or religion or belief.

We welcome that Clause 145 of the Equality Bill sets out core elements of the equality of opportunity and good relations duties; this should assist public bodies to understand the full extent of their general equality duty.

MODEL CONSULTATION RESPONSE

Q1: Do you think the criteria set out above are the right ones? Please give your reasons.

Answer: We would expect specific equality duties to be imposed on at least the full range of public authorities that are already subject to specific duties for race, disability or gender

Q3: Do you agree that public bodies should have a specific duty to publish equality objectives with reference to the relevant evidence and their wider general Equality Duty obligations?

Answer: We agree that any Equality Schemes or objectives must be based on relevant evidence and the general Equality Duty obligations but expect that this evidence gathering should include the use of Impact Assessments.

We also think that objectives are only viable once a race equality scheme based on functions and policies has been constructed.
We do not wish to see any narrowing of the application of specific duties. We do not agree that public authorities should no longer be required to produce equality schemes.

In our experience this duty has required public authorities to consider, possibly for the first time, the extent to which each of their functions is relevant to their equality obligations.

Q4: Do you agree that public bodies should set out the steps they intend to take to achieve their equality objectives?

Answer: We agree that public authorities should be required to set out equality objectives and steps to achieve those objectives. Once an equality scheme has been produced, then we see equality setting as a necessary next step; an authority should be expected to draw on the contents of their scheme in order to meet their general equality duty in respect of all of their functions.

Q5: Do you agree that public bodies should be required to implement the steps they have set out for themselves within the business cycle period unless it would be unreasonable or impractical to do so?

Answer: Yes

Q7: Do you agree that public bodies should set equality objectives taking into account priority areas set by the relevant Secretary of State?

Answer: No – but any scheme or objectives should involve the ethical consultation – already indicated as requirements by the GEO – to require meaningful involvement in the drawing up of schemes, setting objectives, assessing the evidence etc.

Q8: Do you agree that public bodies should not be required to set equality objectives in respect of each protected characteristic?

Answer: No. Consultation should relate to how a public authority will meet its general duty in respect of all 8 protected grounds; any decision by a public authority to adopt equality objectives that do not apply to all 8 grounds should be preceded by full consultation and the reasons for this decision should be stated in the objectives document itself.

Q9: Do you agree that public bodies should be required to report annually on progress against their equality objectives, but that the means by which they do so should not be prescribed in legislation?

Answer: Public bodies should report annually but there should a template for reporting which can make the job of monitoring easier and after this supplemental information can be added – so allowing for consistency but also creativity.

Q10: Do you agree that public bodies with 150 or more employees should be required to publish their gender pay gap, their ethnic minority employment rate and their disability employment rate? We would welcome views on the benefits of these proposals in encouraging public authorities to be more transparent.

Answer: See Q13 answer (below)

Q13: Do you agree with the proposal not to require public bodies to report employment data in relation to the other characteristics protected under the Equality Duty? If not, what other data do you think should be reported on?

Answer: The duty on public authorities to monitor their workforce should be equivalent to the current workforce monitoring requirements that apply as part of the race equality specific duties. Without full evidence regarding the impact of race in their employment decisions, public authorities will not be able to meet their general equality duty to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality of opportunity in carrying out their employment function.

Q14: Do you agree with the move away from an emphasis on describing process, to requiring public bodies to demonstrate how they have taken evidence of the impact on equality into account in the design of their key policy and service delivery initiatives and the difference this has made?

Answer: We do not agree that public authorities should cease to be required to carry out equality impact assessments. From our experience, it has been this duty that has made officers working in the public sector fully aware of the ways in which the policies and practices of public bodies affect different groups within the communities they serve. To remove this duty would be seen by community organisations as a serious dilution of the equality obligations of public authorities

Q15: Do you agree that public bodies should have a specific duty – when setting their equality objectives, deciding on the steps towards their achievement and reviewing their progress in achieving them to take reasonable steps to involve and consult employees, service users and other relevant groups who have an interest in how it carries out its functions – or where appropriate their representatives; and in particular take reasonable steps to consult and involve the protected groups for whom the duty is designed to deliver benefits?

Answer: We strongly welcome the proposed requirement for public authorities to consult and involve their employees, their service users, others who have an interest in carrying out all of their functions and in particular protected groups ‘for whom the duty is designed to deliver benefits’.

This duty should apply, as currently under the disability equality duty, to the development of an equality scheme as well as to setting equality objectives and steps to achieve those objectives and review of progress.

Q16: Do you think that imposing specific equality duties on contracting authorities in relation to their public procurement activities are needed, or are the best way to help deliver equality objectives? Do you think such an approach should be pursued at this time?

Answer: We strongly endorse the proposal to require all public authorities to ensure that the importance of their procurement function in meeting their general equality duty is fully reflected in their equality objectives and the steps they will take to meet those objectives.

Q17: Do you agree that contracting authorities should be required to state how they will ensure equality factors are considered as part of their procurement activities?

Answer: There is a need for specific duties requiring equality to be taken into account at each stage of the procurement process. Critically there must be a requirement for public authorities to monitor the equality performance of contractors they engage to carry out their functions.

Q18: Do you agree that contracting authorities should be required to consider using equality-related award criteria where they relate to the subject matter of the contract and are proportionate?

Answer: Yes.

Q19: Do you agree that contracting authorities should be required to consider incorporating equality-related contract conditions where they relate to the performance of the contract?

Answer: Yes – but we also believe that it needs to be a wider requirement than just for the contract. Contract conditions should include the equality environment of the whole company or contractor.

Q20: What would be the impact of a regulatory proposal aimed at dealing with suppliers who have breached discrimination law? What might be the benefits, costs and risks?

Answer: This would enable public authorities to avoid contracting with suppliers who are not prepared to comply with discrimination law. To exclude contractors who have had a finding of breach of discrimination law in a court or tribunal may be excluded under EU procurement law.

Both EU law and the general equality duty require actions to be proportionate. Public bodies should consider all relevant factors before deciding to exclude, including steps such a supplier may have taken to improve their equality performance.

Q21: Do you support the proposal to establish a national equality standard which could be used in the procurement process? If so, do you believe this is achievable through a specific duty or is this better tackled through a non-legislative approach? Are there any practical issues that would need to be considered?

Answer: We do not agree with in effect a ‘labelling’ system for suppliers. We support the idea of a national equality standard for procurement and it should be a specific duty for public authorities to meet the standard. There is already a great deal of guidance on procurement which is not being followed because it is not a legislative requirement.

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3 Responses

  1. Whatever the outcome to this stupid move by this extremely poor government and their decision to focus all their energy on the race relations act since they came into power in 1997 – sidelining Mr Paul Boateng and keeping him out of an all white cabinet where they had the opportunity to plot this stupid move – with a view to using white working class peoples vote to keep them in power, the blame will always be aportioned to them and the rotten legacy they leave behind will hunt them into their graves.

    This government will go down as the worst and most racist government in the history of the United Kingdom. Who needs the Bnp when you’ve got New Labour.

  2. Scrapping the RRA will not save you at the next election. Your decision to scrap the RRA when you have barely allowed it to work, is going to embarrass future Labour governments when the fruits of your crass decision will begin to emerge.

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