The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to be given a major shake-up that will put more focus on the discrimination faced by individual groups, including disabled people.
The move to have a more “strand-focused” approach could win support from campaigners who have complained that the EHRC has not done enough for disabled people.
The confirmation that there would be changes followed comments made to a newspaper by Harriet Harman, the deputy prime minister.
Harman, who is also the women and equality minister, said she had told Trevor Phillips, the EHRC’s under-fire chair, to restructure the equality watchdog.
She also admitted that the commission, which launched in 2007, had not been set up in the right way.
Harman told The Sunday Times: “We put it all into a melting pot, when in fact it needs to be distinct strands.
“I think the model was not one that was likely to succeed and it hasn’t.”
Her comments came after a series of resignations from the EHRC’s board, including those of its two disabled commissioners, Sir Bert Massie and Baroness [Jane] Campbell, following concerns about Phillips’s leadership of the commission.
An EHRC source said there had been discussions over several months with Harman’s department, the Government Equalities Office, about possible changes.
She said there was likely to be a restructured EHRC board with individual commissioners given responsibility for “championing” a single strand, such as disability, gender or race.
Senior members of EHRC staff will be given similar roles of “strand champions” and will have oversight of the commission’s work in that area.
But the commission will not be split into seven different “directorates”, one for each strand, although there will be more emphasis on ensuring the EHRC’s strand-based work is “visible” to the public.
The source said the EHRC still believed it was important to have a “balance” between a strand-based approach and the “theme”-based approach that looks at equality across the strands in a particular area, such as the workplace.
She said: “I think this does show we take the concerns of some stakeholders [seriously] and are thinking about how we address those concerns. I hope they will welcome it.”
6 August 2009