Is the review of the Public Sector Equality Duty an attack or an opportunity? February 2013

Leander Neckles, of Necko Consultancy, is a free lance equalities consultant and a Board member of Equanomics-UK.

The old Race Equality Duty and the Public Sector Equality Duty
In 2010, the Race Equality Duty was repealed and a much broader Public Sector Equality Duty was introduced. This new duty incorporated the Race Equality Duty and two similar duties – the Disability Equality Duty and Gender Equality Duty – introduced in 2005 and 2006; this Duty also covered age, gender reassignment, pregnancy and religion or belief and sexual orientation.  The central hope was that the stronger and new PSED would continue lead public bodies to proactively address institutional discrimination and advance equality.  Since 2010, we have seen key changes which have undermined the Equality Act 2010, equality and race equality.

  • Although the Government implemented the majority of the Equality Act 2010 in October 2010, it has since has undermined the Act with the Red Tape Challenge and decisions to repeal key enforcement provisions and other key changes.
  • The supporting regulatory framework for the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) has been weakened in England, whilst in Scotland and Wales the devolved Administrations have strengthened their frameworks;
  • The statutory remit and powers of the Equality and Human Rights Commission have been significantly weakened. There have been major cuts to the EHRC’s budget, the EHRC ill-placed to act to support the implementation of the PSED and there are concerns about the diversity of the EHRC’s senior management.
  • There has been a significant weakening of the race equality requirements in relation to stop and search and race has either been avoided or speeches by Government ministers, including the Prime Minister, tend to address race and multiculturalism in negative term.
  • The Government seems to regard equality as an optional extra hence the Red Tape Challenge including the entire Equality Act 2010 as an area of red tape to be reviewed and/or repeal.

The review of the Public Sector Equality – an attack?
In May 2012, as part of the Red Tape Challenge, the Government’s announced the review the Public Sector Equality Duty; the review was originally to be completed by the end of April 2013. In November 2012, Mrs Doreen Lawrence and Dr Richard Stone wrote a letter to the Prime Minister and other senior politicians expressing profound equality concerns about the review; a letter from the First Minister of Wales notes that he shares these concerns.  The terms of reference for the review and the membership of the Steering Group, overseeing the review, were finally published on 28/11/12, six months after the May announcement. The joint response from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister to Mrs Lawrence and Dr Stone, promises ‘transparency and accountability’, that details of the ‘proposed engagement will be publicised following the first meeting of the steering group’  and that the review will ‘involve a wide range of organisations from the Voluntary and Community Sectors as well as public bodies.’  To date the process of engagement has not been published but we wait in hope. I would encourage anyone interested in the review to watc