The head of the equality watchdog has called on the government to ensure that the recovery from recession does not leave disabled people and other minority groups behind.
Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), said in a speech to the Policy Exchange thinktank that equality and inclusion were “good for our economy” and that “being fair, and being seen to be fair” were vital parts of “bringing Britain back to prosperity”.
He called for a programme that would “bring every part of government to bear on the task of ensuring that the effects of painful spending reductions of the next few years will be fairly distributed by social grouping”.
Phillips said that if “jobs and prosperity return for everybody except women, ethnic minorities, the young, the old or disabled people then we will still be paying the welfare bill for people who are kept out of work by discrimination”.
He said the commission could play a major part in the recovery by enforcing the Equality Act to ensure that the government’s spending review was implemented fairly.
An EHRC spokeswoman said afterwards that Phillips wants the government to back “determined action against discrimination” and wants to ensure that its economic strategy is “paralleled by an inclusion plan that prevents cuts and unemployment isolating some communities still further”.
Phillips also said in his speech that the EHRC could increase the confidence of employers that anti-discrimination laws would not “land them with huge liabilities if they take on more women, older, minority or disabled staff”.
The EHRC spokeswoman made it clear that this referred partly to companies that use new laws under the Equality Act that will allow “positive action”.
>From April 2011, when faced with candidates of equal merit, employers will be able to choose the one who is from a group that is under-represented in their workforce, such as disabled people.
Phillips also suggested in his speech that the EHRC could carry out regular surveys of the impact of cuts, and provide evidence to help public bodies focus their resources on those who need them most.
And he said the EHRC needed to be a regulator and leader but not a “state-funded pressure group”.
9 February 2011