The equality watchdog has asked the government for a second time to prove it is fulfilling its legal duty to consider the impact of spending cuts on disabled people, minority ethnic groups and women.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it could take legal action if the Treasury and other government departments fail to provide “robust evidence” that they have met their public sector equality duties on disability, race and gender.
If the government fails to comply with these duties, the EHRC has a range of powers, including a judicial review or formal inquiry, although the EHRC says such serious measures are “a long way away”.
The EHRC’s comments came as disability organisations denied reports that they were seeking their own judicial review.
A number of organisations, including Disability Alliance and Disability Law Service (DLS), had been considering a legal challenge, but both have now ruled out such a move.
Wonta Ansah-Twum, head of disability discrimination and employment for DLS, said: “We do believe the budget will have an adverse effect on disabled people and we do not believe there was a disability impact assessment.
“We wish we were in a position to mount a challenge, but because of limited resources we are not in a position to seek a judicial review because of its cost implications.”
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, added: “We would support a legal challenge but we don’t have the resources to do so.”
The EHRC said it was concerned about spending cuts announced in June’s emergency budget as well as any further cuts announced in October’s spending review.
The EHRC originally wrote to the Treasury and other government departments in June to ask for “reassurance” that they would comply with their legal duties.
Trevor Phillips, the EHRC chair, and Neil Kinghan, its director general, “re-registered” their concern at a meeting this week with Danny Alexander, the chief secretary to the Treasury.
Phillips and Mike Smith, who chairs the EHRC’s disability committee, have also met with Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, to stress the importance of assessing the equality impact of spending decisions.
The EHRC said it wanted to ensure the government’s decisions were “evidence-based, fair and transparent”.
Kinghan said: “It is for the Treasury to demonstrate that it has complied with the legislation and assessed the impact of its decisions on vulnerable groups.
“If it cannot do so, then the commission will have to consider appropriate enforcement action.”
A Treasury spokesman said: “Departments consider the impact of the budget measures on gender, race and disability as they develop and implement the policies. This is in line with their legal obligations.”
Meanwhile, new research shows the impact of the economic crisis on disabled parents and parents of disabled children in Scotland.
A survey by the Parenting Across Scotland Partnership found 53 per cent of disabled parents and 64 per cent of parents with a disabled child found it more difficult to pay their bills than last year.
26 August 2010