MPs worried about new equality commission
A committee of MPs has expressed concern that the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights will not be ready to take on its new role when it starts work in October.
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee also said that equality issues, which includes gay rights, “have slipped down the Government’s agenda.”
The MPs called on the government to bring forward a new Single Equality Act without delay.
Dr Phyllis Starkey MP, chair of the cross-party select committee, said:
“There are not just moral imperatives in reducing inequality and discrimination but economic and social benefits to be gained too.
“We call on the government to do still more to tackle unfair discrimination and reduce inequalities, particularly those that are deep rooted and persistent in society.
“I welcome the creation of the Commission on Equalities and Human Rights but it needs to be given the proper legislative support.
“The government must press ahead with the Single Equalities Act without further delay if we are to eradicate unfair discrimination in our society.”
The commission, to be headed by Trevor Phillips, will combine the roles of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission.
MPs are concerned that the budget will not be sufficient and also fear that there will be some loss of expertise among the staff of the three former commissions.
The new commission will report to Harriet Harman, who in addidtion to her role as Secretary of State of Equality is also Minister for Women, Leader of the House of Commons, Labour Party Chair and Deputy Leader of the Labour party.
A spokesperson for the newly-created Government Equalities Office told PinkNews.co.uk:
“No one should doubt the huge importance government places on equality and we remain committed to introducing a Single Equality Bill.
“However, a great deal of progress has already been made with the introduction of the Civil Partnerships Act and laws to protect people against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religion or belief, amongst other legislation.
“Most recently, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of the Government Equalities Office which further demonstrates that promoting equality in our society and tackling all forms of discrimination is at the heart of policy making.
“We value the comments made by the Select Committee and the government will respond to the report fully in due course.”
Arpita Dutt, Partner and Discrimination Law specialist at award-winning Russell Jones Walker solicitors, expressed concern that the new commission might not be effective.
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“The CEHR needs to take a proactive enforcement and monitoring role and also to support victims of discrimination, taking a strategic oversight to cases as the existing race, sex and disability commissions have done in the past,” she told PinkNews.co.uk
“This body has been in planning for so long, with so little progress, that to date there has been no statutory commission with responsibility for protecting people from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation (as well as religion and age); leaving many feeling that there is a perceived hierarchy amongst the various discrimination strands.
“The intention is that this new CEHR should finally do away with that, but it will need significant resources to be able to provide for six areas of discrimination, where commissions previously existed for only three.
“The power of the combined commission needs to be greater than its parts and there is a fear that, given the resources of the CEHR, it seems likely that its overall role will be diminished in each strand.
“It also needs to focus on the areas of sexual orientation, age and religious discrimination which have lacked resources and the provision of information and assistance to individuals in the past.”
The Commission for Equality and Human Rights starts operating on October 1st.