A coalition of Black organisations has written to the Government, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission Chair, Trevor Phillips.
The letter highlights the fact that the Government budget setting process is potentially illegal having failed to comply with race and human rights equality legislation, and calling on the Equality and Human Rights Commission chair Trevor Phillips, and race Commissioner Simon Woolley to offer advice and support to any legal action.
Black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities, many of whom live in deprived communities, will suffer enormously from unfair reductions in Government spending. These cuts, if implemented without due care, will hit the poorest communities the hardest.
Any disproportionate impact of targeted spending cuts in public services and reductions in the public sector workforce could result in black communities facing unfair losses of essential front line services in both the statutory and voluntary sectors. In addition, this is likely to lead to the unfair and huge redundancies, and sackings of black public workers.
OBV along with the race equality policy group 1990 Trust, Just West Yorkshire a BME regional network, the London Race and Criminal Justice Consortium, the Black Training & Enterprise Group and Equanomics UK all co signed the letter strongly reminding Government of their duty to complete a full race equality impact assessment on their budget reduction proposals.
Their warning was preceded by a strong letter from Home Secretary Theresa May to her Cabinet colleagues including Chancellor George Osborne. The letter copied to Prime Minister David Cameron, outlines the legal requirement to evaluate and consult black and ethnic minority communities about budget cuts, and identifying any potential disproportionate impact, as well as setting out policies to effectively address any negative impact.
In the letter sent on the 9th June the Home Secretary speaking about the budget process states:
“This letter is to remind colleagues of the legal requirement to additionally consider how women, disabled people and ethnic minorities are affected.”
May’s letter point’s out that unless the Equalities Act 2010 is complied with, in particular regard to public duties in relation to race, gender and disabilities, the Government budget could be declared illegal by the courts:
“If there are no processes to show that equality issues have been taken into account in relation to particular decision, there is a real risk of bucketful legal challenge by – for instance – recipients of public services, Trade Union or other groups affected by these decisions. The Equality and Human Rights Commission also has the power to bring judicial review proceedings or issue compliance notices if they think that a public body has not complied with an equality duty.”
David Weaver, Chair of the 1990 Trust said:
“The implications of this letter are deeply worrying because it shows that government departments have been warned they will not only break the law … but also run the risk of worsening race inequality. Therefore we see no alternative, but to initiate a judicial review.”
Despite Government receiving this clear legal advice from the Home Secretary, Ministers appear to have failed to ensure compliance.
In an additional development the coalition groups also sent a letter to all Civil Servant Permanent Secretaries reminding them of their statutory duties. The letter states that:
“Under the race equality duty Government must have ‘due regard’ to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination, promote race equality of opportunity; and promote good relations between people of different racial groups. The race equality duty requires public authorities to assess and consult on the impact of any proposed policies in the promotion of race equality, and use these finding’s to take effective action to ensure there are no unfair race equality outcomes.”
The letter goes on to express serious concerns:
“We recognise that there is a major resource challenge across Government and the wider public sector and that, given your role to champion race equality across your department we are writing to you to express our grave concerns that any proposed reductions in departmental budgets should not disproportionately affect Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.”
Warning of the dire consequences if Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities are unfairly targeted by the budget reductions they state:
“BME individuals and communities will face huge social strains as result of unfair reductions in public spending that fails to identify and minimise disproportionate impact. It is clear that there are particular areas of Government activity and spending where any resource reductions are very likely to have unfair and negative impact.”
This episode will not only be a test of the Government and their credentials around equality, but also the solidarity of BME communities to effectively work together to demand justice, and hold Westminster to account.