Stop cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission

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2013 National Black Members' Conference
18 September 2012

Conference is deeply concerned about the Coalition Government’s plan to drastically cut the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) budget and staffing by 2015.

Conference believes that these cuts represent an attack on equalities and amount to bringing an end to the EHRC as we know it and stripping it of most of its powers.

During their 2011 inspection of the UK government the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN CERD) expressed “particular concern at the proposed budget cuts to the EHRC, which may have negative effects on the execution of the Commission’s mandate.” They recommended “that any spending cuts and proposed legislative amendments to the mandate of EHRC should ensure EHRC operates independently and effectively in line with the Paris Principles (annexed to General Assembly resolution 48/134)”.

The Equality Act 2006 gave the Commission key powers to enforce equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status and encouraging compliance with the Human Rights Act.

Parliament also bestowed functions on the EHRC which include promoting understanding and encouraging good practice in relation to human rights; monitoring the law and providing legal assistance; providing information and advice; conducting inquiries and judicial reviews; providing conciliation and grant making powers.

However, these powers and functions are now under threat as the government is planning to slash the work of the Commission by cutting its budget by 62%. If this happens, the Commission will lose half of its workforce.

The Government are also planning to reduce the EHRC’s legal enforcement capabilities; close its direct expert helpline and replace it with a private sector referral only service; shutdown most of their regional offices, thereby causing it to lose its regional presence; and end its provision of grants to charities or project groups that are often the first port of call for victims of harassment and discrimination.

Conference notes that the Commission provides an important approach of preventative and enforcement capabilities at a time when Britain faces many challenges.

Conference believes that this period of austerity is a crucial time for the EHRC to be able to fulfil its statutory duties as directed by parliament and the EU directives. This should be a vital time for the EHRC to maintain its legal enforcement powers, its advisory role and its connection with the grassroots. However, the cuts will make this impossible as it will strip the EHRC of its powers and will eventually close it down.

Conference therefore calls on the National Black Members’ Committee to work with the NEC to:

1)Request that UNISON writes to the Minister for Women and Equality, urging them to maintain the remit and funding of the EHRC.

2)Request that UNISON writes to the chairs of the Parliamentary Select Committees that scrutinise equality and human rights issues, asking them to review the Government reforms plans.

3)Consider how UN processes such as the CERD inspections can be used to challenge cuts to the EHRC.

4)Raise awareness of these drastic measures and seek to ensure that Black members highlight the proposed cuts in restricting their access to free advice and help.

5)Encourage Black members to sign the ‘Save the EHRC’ e-petition.