A few weeks ago Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a controversial speech at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), in which he talked about equality, among other things. He expressed his frustration at “bureaucratic nonsense” that needs to be churned out in the name of equality. Cameron said we don’t need “all this extra tick-box stuff” when we have “smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy.” He wrapped it up by announcing that the government is “calling time on equality impact assessments”, leaving most in confusion. We asked equality and diversity practitioners and experts to give us their initial reaction.
Brenda currently leads on policy and research for a third sector equality organisation in the South West of England, and supports regional equality networks of LGB and Trans people, women, and BME groups.
The suggestion that David Cameron’s calling time on equality impact assessments was mere crowd-pleasing looks like wishful thinking; not least in light of government findings that 90% of this audience would probably be fine with the Equality Act, have never been expected to do EIAs, and possibly wondered what they were.
The fact that EIAs haven’t been mandatory for some time is immaterial to David Cameron. The message was that ‘public bodies pausing to consider whether they are using public money in a way that does not discriminate against people whom prejudice stalks daily is another bureaucratic obstacle to ‘buccaneering’ global entrepreneurs.
It’s part of a sustained attack on the Equality Act (Red Tape Challenge), culminating in a premature review of the Public Sector Equality Duty, which had its origins in hard lessons learned through the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. One of these was that:
“It is incumbent on every institution to examine their policies and the outcome of their policies and practices to guard against disadvantaging any section of our communities.” (Lord Macpherson, 1999)
But we mustn’t get the PM wrong. He isn’t against the Equality Act (“It’s not a bad piece of legislation.”). And he has an answer for those who worry about losing the Equality Duty: “We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy…”
Hopefully, these aren’t the smart people who drafted the Welfare Reform Act and the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.
Dr Atul K. Shah is the founder of http://www.diverseethics.com and author of ‘Boardroom Diversity – The Opportunity’.
The spirit of the Equality Act is to promote equality and fairness for all minority groups. I believe Equality Impact Assessments were required to ensure that organisations monitor the application of these principles and the outcomes from any equality initiatives. I am totally against the move by Cameron to call time on Equality Impact Assessments, and it is consistent with his cuts on HMRC (Revenue and Customs) – he wants to protect the privileged in an unequal way.
Also in my experience, many organisations with deep inequalities hated having to do Equality Impact Assessments, and often approached them as a paper exercise as opposed to a means of discovering their flaws and rectifying their unfairness. So they are likely to be the ones who complained the loudest. I would be tempted to infer from such gestures that the current government is not in favour of minorities.
We are seeing many moves away from the spirit of the Equality Act – the huge reduction in the budget of the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission), for example. It is clear from all these that diversity is not seen as an opportunity but more as a headache and a burden. This is extremely narrow-minded and frustrating, and a huge loss of opportunity and growth. And we are all forced to pay the price of this, even when we so want to improve the nation and its future.
Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) works to further and support equality and diversity for staff and students in higher education across all four nations of the UK, and in colleges in Scotland.
The public sector equality duty (PSED) consists of a general duty supported by specific duties which are set out separately in regulations for England, Scotland and Wales.
The general duty requires HEIs and colleges to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. The Equality Act 2010 does not set out a prescribed process on how to demonstrate due regard but there must be evidence that relevant equality issues have been considered. A good way to demonstrate due regard is by using a process to assess the impact of policies, procedures and decisions on the general duty such as an equality impact assessment tool.
In England, the specific duties do not specifically contain a requirement to assess the impact of policies and procedures but HEIs and colleges still need to demonstrate they have had due regard under the general duty (for guidance on the specific duties, please visit the Equality Act section of our website).
The requirement to demonstrate due regard in the general duty of the PSED remains, and ECU believes that Equality Impact Assessments are a useful and effective tool in assisting HEIs and colleges to demonstrate such due regard.
Should the government intend to remove the requirement to demonstrate due regard, this would require the relevant section of the Equality Act to be repealed. This would be subject to due parliamentary process and could take a year or more.
Equality impact assessments play an important part in creating a sustainable British economy. Why? Because they are an efficient way to target increasingly scarce resources on actions which will have maximum impact in advancing race equality. We are already concerned that the systematic and disproportionate disinvestment in, and disengagement with, higher education will lead to a narrow workforce that has limited relevance in a modern workplace and environment. Without optimising its diverse talent pool the British economy will not be able to compete against its competitors especially in an international higher education market.
The problem is not with equality impact assessments but a lack of understanding about how to use them. Instead of ripping them up, the Government should seek how to maximise their effectiveness to create a fair and equal society. Otherwise they will find themselves sometime soon having to invest in something else (embarrassingly akin to equality impact assessments) because an increasingly diverse Britain (with all their voting power) will demand it.
Most of the people that are in Whitehall did not grow up around diversity, so how can they decide what is good for being diverse?