The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was established by the Equality Act 2006 with the ambition of creating an equal society which respects human rights. The government in its consultation, Building a Fairer Britain: Reform of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is now proposing that the equality and human rights champion has its wings clipped and turned into a mere regulator through the repealing and amending of certain sections of the Equality Act 2006. Under the proposals, the EHRC would in effect no longer be a champion of equality and human rights, but instead an isolated government think-tank.
The justification for the slimming down of the EHRC is anything but clear and the executive summary to the document is telling. Paragraph one refers to the need to cut costs across government; paragraph three explains that the UK needs an equality regulator, but that the EHRC has not been performing well as an equality champion and in the same paragraph we are told that the EHRC is not delivering value for money. One of two conclusions may reasonably be drawn (if we cut past the waffle): either the EHRC is being punished for poor performance or the EHRC is an easy ‘quango’ (quasi-non-governmental-organisation) to shrink because equality and human rights are less of a priority in the present climate.
If the issue is performance then logically the first step should surely be to take practical and reasonable steps to address where the EHRC is falling short, rather than repealing and amending legislation. It is also worth bearing in mind that the EHRC is practically a toddler (in its third year) and surely deserves a chance to improve. If this response was taken to performance across the board we would probably have a very small government and civil service indeed.
If the issue is that equality and human rights are less important and therefore easier to deprioritise, then the government approach maybe a false economy. A progressive Britain underpinned by values such as the law of law, equality and a respect for human rights will surely be a more attractive prospect for investors than a fragmented and divided one. See also the proposed cuts to legal aid.
My organisation, IARS, has recently submitted its own response to the proposed reform, which can be found on the IARS website in due course.