Charities slam PM’s plans to ‘dismantle’ equality safeguards

Charities have attacked David Cameron’s plans to end three-month consultations and equality impact assessments on government policy and reduce the numbers of judicial reviews.

Yesterday, in a speech to business leaders at the CBI conference, Prime Minister David Cameron said steps had been made to create a “faster, leaner government”, but more had to be done.

He said there would no longer be a three-month consultation on government policy and ministers would decide how long the period would be: “If you can get it done properly in a fortnight – great…and we are going further, saying: if there is no need for a consultation, then don’t have one.”

Cameron also said government was “calling time” on equality impact assessments. “We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff.” And he announced plans to charge more for judicial reviews and reduce the number of chances to appeal from four to two.

The move has been slammed by charities, including Navca, which says charities have used equality impact assessments as a tool to prevent policies being introduced that adversely affect disadvantaged groups, such as the disabled, the elderly and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Joe Irvin, chief executive of Navca, said: “This announcement is shocking. Economic growth may be the government’s number one priority; but permitting unfair and bad decision-making will not help this. Checking equality impacts is not a tick-box exercise; it is about ensuring basic fairness.

“Equality impact assessments allow policy-makers to think through the impacts of what they are doing based on evidence.”

Ralph Michell, director of policy at Acevo, also said it would be a mistake to scrap equality impact assessments: “At a time when Britain remains riven by inequalities, and when in many places austerity is likely to mean those inequalities get worse not better, we need politicians to be thinking more about the impact their decisions will have on different groups, not less.”

State discrimination against women

Vivienne Hayes, CEO at the Women’s Resource Centre called the PM’s announcements “disappointing, but not surprising”. She said: “While this government regularly uses the language of ‘fairness for all’ and that ‘we are all in this together’, all of the evidence demonstrates that this rhetoric is empty; the reality is that policies and austerity measures disproportionately affect women. Thus it comes as no surprise that one of the few legal tools available to challenge the discriminatory nature of policies, is being scrapped.

“In the past, we have gone as far to say that government policies are tantamount to state discrimination against women; in putting an end to equality impact assessments David Cameron only further proves this assertion.”

The National Deaf Children’s Society, which forced Stoke-on-Trent City Council to reverse its plans to cut further services to deaf children in the city after challenging the decision in the High Court, said judicial reviews, consultations and equality impact assessments were crucial parts of the democratic process:

“Charities who, like us, protect the most vulnerable groups use consultations and judicial reviews as a tool for ensuring that minority groups are actively involved in the decisions that can have such a major impact on their lives. It is unacceptable that Cameron is threatening to do away with these processes as it will leave families with no voice and at risk of illegal cuts made to their services without any recourse available to them."

Elizabeth Balgobin, chair at equalities charity Voice4Change England warned that without consultation things would happen before organisations and people had a chance to assess whether a case could be made on anything: “This idea of reducing red tape frightens me,” she said. “David Cameron says he wants everything done equally and then dismantles the things that try to make things more equal.”

This article was taken from www.civilsociety.co.uk – http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/governance/news/content/13830