DAA News Network

UK: Government scrap equality duty = bad news for disabled people and other marginalised groups

Posted 26/11-10 at 21.41

The Home Secretary, Teresa May, has announced that the government will remove the socioeconomic duty, due to come into force from April 2011, from the Equality Act. The duty, a key part of the Act, would have required all public bodies to assess whether their policies were addressing inequalities for many groups, including disabled people.

In her speech, in which she characterised the duty as "ridiculous" and "socialism in one clause", she said the government favoured a greater focus on "fairness" rather than "equality". She argued that many people felt alienated by the equality agenda.

Liane Venner, head of equalities at Unison, said that while the duty had been a small, light-touch measure, it had marked a new recognition that public bodies had a responsibility to see how they could reduce income-related inequalities.

Another important issue, at least for the government's cuts agenda, is that "fairness" is a much vaguer and less legally enforceable concept than equality.



Editorial comment: This crass, cynical move is a clear attempt to make it difficult to hold government and statutory bodies to account for the impact of their spending plans at a time of massive cuts to public services. Because of this local authorities, for example, will be able to spend their money without having to consider how it effects the equality of the most disadvantaged groups.

Also, getting rid of the Equality Duty makes it virtually impossible to assess whether the government is fulfilling its obligations under the UN Convention, especially Article 19. The latter holds that states must, "...recognize the equal right of all persons with disabilities to live in the community, with choices equal to others...".And that "Community services and facilities for the general population [should be] available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and [be] responsive to their needs."

Curiously, it was only a few months ago that Teresa May was singing the praises of the Equality Duty. In the forward to the August public consultation on the Equality Duty, she said, "We want to tear down the barriers to equal opportunities and build a fairer society. We are committed to giving people the power to improve our public services through greater transparency and democratic control. Transparency is essential to improving performance across the public sector, generating value for money from services and ensuring our public services meet the needs of our diverse communities and support greater equality: we believe that citizens should be able to hold public bodies to account for how their public services are designed and delivered, at what cost and with what effect."


Now, even before the results of the consultation have been published, the whole project has been summarily swept away. This reflects both the government's basic ideological hostility to the entire concept of equality and their need to cover up the real impact of the cuts announced in October. If that real impact was made clear, the Prime Minister's declaration that "We're all in this together", would be exposed for the lie it is.

So much for equality. So much for transparency. So much for democracy.




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