MPs and peers have called for action to fight back against government attacks on equality legislation.
Members of the all party parliamentary groups (APPG) on equalities, disability, ageing and older people, and race and community were discussing a series of assaults on the equality agenda that have taken place in the coalition’s first year.
Among them are plans to cut the budget, responsibilities and duties of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), plans to weaken the duties of public bodies under the Equality Act, and decisions not to implement other parts of Labour’s act.
There has even been a suggestion on the government’s “red tape challenge” website that the Equality Act could be scrapped.
Several MPs and peers at the meeting raised particular concerns about government plans to take responsibility for its national helpline away from the EHRC.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell – a former EHRC commissioner who resigned in 2009 over its leadership – said that farming out the helpline to the private or voluntary sector would be “really, really bad”.
She said the Disability Rights Commission had learned that a regulator will “only be as good as the connection to the grassroots” and that running the helpline was “the only way to get that connection with what is happening on equality on the ground”.
Her fellow disabled peer, Lord [Colin] Low, said he also would fight to save the helpline.
Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat MP, said it was “absolutely critical” that the EHRC continued to receive government funding to run the helpline, and pledged to fight his own coalition government “very, very hard” on the issue.
But Lord Low warned that campaigners would have to be “quite tactical” and “relearn the lessons of the 1980s and do what we can by way of damage limitation” when it came to the government’s assaults on equality, identifying “strategic priorities where we think we can get wins”.
Fiona Mactaggart MP, Labour’s shadow minister for equalities, said she believed the Commons needed a new equalities audit committee, to measure the impact on equality of policies across government.
Amanda Ariss, chief executive of the Equality and Diversity Forum, said some equality campaigners were “starting to feel concern that there are parts of the government that see equality as a burden rather than a benefit”.
Sandra Osborne, the Labour MP who chairs the equalities APPG, warned that there was a “fundamental backlash against people’s rights that is actually happening now”.
She said the four APPGs would meet to plan how to fight back against the government’s assault on equality legislation.
10 May 2011