Frequently asked questions on the Commission's Section 31 Assessment of HM Treasury
Find answers to commonly asked questions about the Assessment. If your question is not answered within this section, please send it to us via the e-mail address: HMTreasuryS31@equalityhumanrights.com. Please ensure that the word Question appears within the Subject Heading.
A Section 31 Assessment is a unique power given to the Commission as a regulator under the Equality Act 2006, in relation to ensuring compliance with the public sector equality duties (PSED).
These powers allow the Commission to assess the extent to which or the manner in which an organisation has complied with the PSED. The Assessment includes the power to require evidence and information to be provided, helping the Commission come to a final judgment on compliance.
As part of such an Assessment, the Commission makes arrangements for people and organisations to make representations before publishing its final report. Any organisation which is the subject of recommendations made in the Assessment is required to consider them. Courts and tribunals may also have regard to any findings in the report.
The Commission has undertaken this Assessment with the cooperation of HM Treasury. Our principal aims were to discover to what extent and in what manner decisions were taken in accordance with the duties; to consider, with the Treasury, whether there might be improvements in the process of decision-making; and to propose ways in which future such exercises could be more effective, more transparent, and offer greater value for money by ensuring that spending is better targeted.
The Assessment follows the decision of Mr Justice Ouseley to reject an application for judicial review of the June 2010 emergency budget, in which he asserted that an analysis of the government's spending plans would be better carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission).
It is important to note that the duty does not stop public authorities from taking difficult financial decisions. On the contrary, the duty should ensure that public spending is better targeted and that money is spent where it will have the greatest effect.
The Assessment was (and will continue to be) an opportunity for the Commission to work constructively with HM Treasury to evaluate what steps it had undertaken to comply with the legislation and identify any potential opportunities for improvement. The process will enable lessons to be learnt across Government to improve outcomes for protected groups by putting fairness and transparency at the heart of difficult decisions.
The Assessment finds that overall, Ministers and officials made welcome, and serious, efforts to meet their obligations.
These included publishing an overview of the impact on equalities alongside the Spending Review itself; formally drawing departments' attention to the requirements of the duties; analysing the effects of its proposals on different income groups; and demanding more and better information about the equality impact of proposals.
However, in three cases, the Commission's detailed examination was unable to establish whether or not the decisions were in full accord with the requirements of the duty because of a lack of clarity as to a) where the true site of the decisions lay and b) whether or not some decisions were the responsibility of other government departments or the government as a whole. They were:
- The intention to introduce a household benefit cap was announced without analysis of its impact on gender equality being provided to HM Treasury Ministers.
- Information on the potential impact of the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowance on gender, race or disability equality was not provided to HM Treasury Ministers.
- Evidence provided by the Department for Transport on the potential impact of changes to transport funding on disability equality was not passed on to the HM Treasury Ministers.
The Commission's analysis also suggests that for future exercises, improvements could be made in the early stages of the decision making processes in order to meet the requirements of the PSED more completely.
The Commission believes that in some cases a more detailed and purposeful equality effect analysis might have resulted in better targeted spending programmes.
In its report the Commission recommends measures to assure future compliance and good practice in cross-government spending reviews including:
- Greater transparency, including clear HM Treasury guidance on data and analytical requirements for the whole of government
- Common rules to allow easier sharing of equality data within government
- authoritative sources of advice and support for government departments on equality impact analysis,and
- a single point of government responsible for monitoring and assessing the cumulative impact of future cross government spending reviews and budgets
Given that the government is already looking at the early stages of the next Spending Review, it is important that they work with the Commission and take them into account in the next round.
Last updated: 14 Apr 2016