Massie says EHRC changes are three years too late


A disabled former commissioner of Britain’s equality watchdog has welcomed its plans to do more to fight the discrimination faced by individual groups – including disabled people – but says they are three years too late.

Sir Bert Massie resigned from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in July, in protest at the leadership of its under-fire chair, Trevor Phillips.

The EHRC’s other disabled commissioner, Baroness Campbell, also resigned in July. 

The EHRC board is now set to be restructured, with individual commissioners given responsibility for “championing” a single strand, such as disability, with senior staff members given similar roles as “strand champions”.

The move followed an intervention by Harriet Harman, the women and equality minister, who admitted that the commission, which launched in 2007, had been set up the wrong way.

She said it needed to be structured more around “distinct strands” rather than the current cross-strand “melting pot” which puts more emphasis on equality across the strands in a particular area, such as the workplace.

Sir Bert, the former chair of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), one of the EHRC’s predecessors, said: “I welcome this now, but it was what I was calling for before the commission was created. This was the way to do it and I was told I was old-fashioned.”

He said he and the DRC pushed for a more strand-focused structure when the EHRC was being set up three years ago.

But he said: “Both Nicola Brewer [the EHRC chief executive, who resigned earlier this year]and Trevor made it quite clear they wanted a non-strand approach and that was what the politicians were saying.

“At the DRC we were holding out against it and said it wouldn’t work.

“Had they listened in the first place, they wouldn’t have had all the problems and they would have had a successful commission.”

Sir Bert said cross-strand work would have followed naturally if the EHRC had built a strong foundation of work on the individual strands.

He said the EHRC now needed to put “strong people on the payroll” – and find strong commissioners – who had expertise in the individual strands.

And he said the EHRC would need to “reinvent” itself to attract the expert staff it needed, and work much more closely with disabled people’s groups, disability organisations and other “stakeholders”.

11 August 2009