Creating a fairer Britain
The Commission's Annual Report and Accounts for 2011/12 were laid before Parliament on 16 July 2012.
This has been a year of achievement for the Commission as we successfully delivered numerous projects to promote and protect equality and human rights while helping individuals and organisations better understand and work with the changing legal and economic environment. Our activities in 2011/12 included three major inquiries, high profile legal actions and a groundbreaking review of the processes behind the spending decisions taken by the UK government.
During the year, the Commission operated in a legal and economic environment which continued to change. These changes included the ongoing implementation of the 2010 Equality Act and new public sector equality duty, which came into effect in April 2011. Alongside these legal changes, the government’s austerity measures and the localism and big society agendas are changing the face of the public sector and the way public services are delivered by a range of organisations.
As a reaction to these changes, the Commission began to refocus its activities towards a more enabling role which maximises our value to the public. This included using our expertise and influence, in co-operation with other regulators, to support the development of policies and services that promote equality of opportunity and safeguard fundamental
The work we delivered in 2011/12 reflects this change in focus, which we will continue to develop through the next three years. This includes promoting fairness and equality of opportunity in Britain’s future economy; promoting fair access to public services, and autonomy and dignity in service delivery; and promoting dignity and respect, while safeguarding people’s safety.
During the year, the Commission produced three major inquiries, which generated significant public debate about equality and human rights issues. Our inquiry into the home care system in England revealed disturbing evidence that the poor treatment of many older people is breaching their human rights and too many are struggling to voice their concerns about their care or be listened to about what kind of support they want.
Alongside our inquiry, the Commission joined forces with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to produce equality and human rights guidance for care inspectors. This enables CQC inspectors to clearly link effective equality and human rights compliance with high quality, safe services and sets out exactly what they have to look for when monitoring a care provider and what to do if they suspect a human rights violation or find a breach in standards.
Our groundbreaking inquiry into disability-related harassment revealed that hundreds of thousands of disabled people regularly experience harassment or abuse, but a culture of disbelief is preventing public authorities from tackling it effectively. In Wales, the Commission’s report led to a National Assembly Committee Inquiry into the issue and the Welsh Government has since committed to taking forward the Commission’s and the Committee’s recommendations.
The Commission’s inquiry into human trafficking in Scotland led to a series of 10 findings and recommendations designed to make Scotland a more hostile environment for traffickers. As a consequence of our inquiry, the Scottish Government has already held a parliamentary debate on trafficking, and will be hosting a summit which will bring
together bodies and agencies that deal with trafficking issues to develop a multi-agency strategy. The Scottish Government also supports the inquiry’s recommendation that a service standard should be developed for supporting victims of human trafficking and is now reviewing its approach to future care standards and to the commissioning of support services.
To help support public authorities meet the requirements of the Equality Act and public sector equality duty (PSED), the Commission published a set of practical guidance, prepared Codes of Practice on Further and Higher Education, and prepared and consulted on the Code of Practice for Schools. Working with Equality Exchange Networks we provided tailored guidance for smaller businesses to help them create fairer, more inclusive work places.
In 2012, the Commission finalised its Section 31 Assessment of HM Treasury and the Scottish Government, which looked at the practical implications of compliance with the public sector equality duty and the impact of spending decisions on protected groups. We also agreed to work with Somerset and Gloucestershire County Councils to review their decision-making systems after a judge’s ruling overturned changes to library services on the grounds that they had not fully complied with the PSED.
Alongside the economic rationale for reshaping the public sector, technology is changing the way public services are accessed, with many transactions now taking place online. During the year, the Commission, working with BCS (The Chartered Institute for IT) developed and launched accessibility guidelines for people who own, create or maintain
websites and those who train website designers. This work should help companies create more accessible and commercially beneficial websites which increase business from disabled customers, as well as ensuring vulnerable groups do not lose out as a result.
The Commission in Wales worked with employers in the private and public sectors to develop workplace policies covering mental health and domestic abuse. NHS Wales and the Welsh Local Government Association are taking these policies into the public sector workplace. In the private sector, organisations such as HSBC, Jobcentre Plus, Admiral Insurance and AA Insurance are using our guidance to improve their equality policies.
Our legal work included several landmark actions, including the Supreme Court case of HJ and HT v Secretary of State for the Home Department where we successfully argued that gay asylum seekers should be granted refugee status if going back to their homeland would result in them being forced to conceal their sexuality or face persecution for living openly as a gay person.
The Commission also challenged the UK government’s guidance setting out the approach that British intelligence officers should take in seeking information from people held by authorities overseas. The guidance was published following evidence that UK security and intelligence officers involved in counter-terrorism operations may have been complicit in the torture of detainees by foreign governments. We argued that the guidance would not be consistent with either domestic or international law and risked leaving officers in the field with the mistaken and unintended expectation that they would be protected from personal criminal liability in situations where they may, unwittingly, be liable for crimes.
As a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), we published the second of our landmark triennial reviews – this time covering the state of human rights in England and Wales and the UK’s compliance with its international obligations. We continued to monitor the UK government’s compliance with the United Nations human rights treaties and submitted an initial response to its Bill of Rights consultation. Our promotional work included producing ‘Equal Rights, Equal Respect’ a set of teaching resources aimed at key stage three students and designed to improve attitudes to human rights and equality issues.
Alongside our overall programme of reforming the Commission, we continued to strengthen our financial and management procedures to reflect on issues raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General in previous reports. We are therefore pleased that the National Audit Office will again be able to give an unqualified audit opinion on our 2011/12
accounts. The Board remains committed to taking further measures to strengthen our financial management.
Since the end of the financial year, the Government has announced the results of its public consultation on our powers and duties. The Government has confirmed that it will be taking over the delivery of some of the frontline services the Commission previously provided, including our helpline and grants programmes. The Commission has reflected these changes in its programme of organisational reform announced in June 2012.
The Commission continues to face uncertainty. Our resources, like those of other public bodies, are being reduced and our staff numbers cut as a result. But, by increasing our flexibility and adapting to the changing nature of the society around us, we believe the Commission is ideally placed to play a vital role in protecting and promoting human rights, supporting economic recovery and providing the maximum value for taxpayers' money.
The Commission’s achievements would not have been possible without the commitment and hard work of our staff and on behalf of the Board we would like to thank them all for their efforts.
Trevor Phillips OBE, Chair
Mark Hammond, Chief Executive Officer