Commission says fairness must be at the heart of budget decisions
The Equality and Human Rights Commission today revealed the action it has taken to ensure the government meets its legal obligations to consider the effect of budget cuts on vulnerable groups.
The aim of the Commission is to ensure that decision-makers come to their judgements based on the best information available, and that these decisions are in line with the coalition government's own statements that such decisions should be evidence-based, fair and transparent.
Neil Kinghan, Director General of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
"Under equality legislation, the Treasury, like all public bodies, has a legal duty to pay 'due regard' to equality and consider any disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups when making decisions, including decisions about the budget. This legislation is not designed to prevent reductions in public expenditure. Its role, and the Commission's role, is to ensure fairness is at the heart of decisions.
"When the Spending Review was announced in June, the Commission wrote to government departments, including the Treasury, asking for reassurance that they would comply with the legislation and issuing guidance to help them to do this. We have pressed the point in person with a number of Cabinet Ministers, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
“It is for the Treasury to demonstrate that it has complied with the legislation and assessed the impact of its decisions on vulnerable groups. If it cannot do so, then the Commission will have to consider appropriate enforcement action."
For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.
For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.
Notes to Editors:
- As a result of public sector duties on race, disability and gender, policy makers have a legal obligation to pay 'due regard' to equality when making decisions, including decisions in relation to spending and proposed budget cuts. If challenged, they would have to provide robust evidence that they had done so. Equality Impact Assessments are a useful means for policy makers to meet this obligation.
- The Commission’s view is that responsibility for meeting this 'general duty' lies with the Treasury in areas of policy where it has genuine ownership, namely tax and benefit. The Commission also believes that only the Treasury is in a position to consider the aggregate affect of individual departments’ budget decisions and any disproportionate effects that these may have on particular groups of people.
- The Commission will produce new guidance for decision makers on meeting obligations under the duty in the autumn.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission
The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.
The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.