Government has ‘emasculated’ EHRC, disabled peer tells minister


A disabled peer has told a minister that her government’s cuts and reforms have “emasculated” the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Lord [Colin] Low told peers last week – during a debate on the enterprise and regulatory reform bill – of his concerns about the government’s assault on the equality agenda.

He warned then of a “sustained attack on the equality agenda in our society and the institutions which exist to promote it”, and that the government had decided to “throw the dismantling of the EHRC as a bone to their right wing”.

This week, he was able to raise those concerns directly with Helen Grant, one of the coalition’s three women and equalities ministers, at a joint meeting of the all party parliamentary groups on disability, equalities and sex equality.

Lord Low told the minister that the enterprise and regulatory reform bill would “strip away quite a lot of the functions of the EHRC” and other anti-discrimination measures.

And he said these changes would come on top of a cut of 62 per cent to the EHRC’s budget and a “massive loss of staff”, while the government had removed the commission’s grant-making function and conciliation service and outsourced its telephone helpline.

He said: “These are much bigger cuts than are being implemented anywhere else in the public sector. It really does feel as if it has been emasculated.”

His fellow disabled peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who also spoke to defend the EHRC last week, told Grant that she was concerned about the government’s early review of the new public sector equality duty, while equality impact assessments also appeared to be under threat.

She also warned that two years of government welfare reforms had led to an increase in hate crime against disabled people, who were now seen as either “Paralympians or scroungers”.

But Grant said: “It isn’t fair for the commission not to deal with cuts in the same way as any other public service.”

She claimed that if the transfer of the EHRC’s telephone helpline and the removal of funding for its grant-making and conciliation service had not taken place, the cut in its budget would have been about 35 per cent, which was “not out of line with other public service reductions”.

She insisted that the government’s reforms “should allow the commission to be even more focused and even more fit for purpose”.

She added: “We want equality not to be seen as a burden, we want it to be seen as something that people do naturally because it is the right thing to do.”

And she said the government was not going to “row back” on its decision to review the equality duty.

She said: “If you sense something isn’t working as well as it could, it is wise to take a look and see how can we do this better. It isn’t about getting rid of it. It is about how it can be delivered in a much better way.”

16 January 2013