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Squad to design new equalities commission lacks black grassroots credibility

By Lester Holloway

THE TASKFORCE responsible for creating the new single equalities commission has been criticised for lacking grassroots minority ethnic representation.

Sarah Spencer
Spencer: vice-chair of CRE but representing Oxford University on taskforce

A local council equalities officer, a humanist and the CBI are among members of a taskforce charged with working out how the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) will work.

The new CEHR will see the abolition of Britain’s top race watchdog, the Commission for Racial Equality.

The 1990 Trust, who have been critical of the changes, were unsuccessful in its’ bid to be on the taskforce, along with Operation Black Vote who have also voiced concerns.

The only organisation on the taskforce with a brief to deal with general minority ethnic issues is the soon-to-be abolished Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

But CRE chairman Trevor Phillips has already made public his position favouring the merger into a new single equalities body embracing gender, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities, age, human rights and race.

As the taskforce was revealed, Karen Chouhan, chief executive of The 1990 Trust, said the absence of grassroots groups representing minority ethnic was a serious concern.

Who’s who on new taskforce

Amanda Ariss, Equal Opportunities Commission (EoC)
Katherine Rake, Fawcett Society

Mohammed Aziz, British Muslim Research Council
Rev John Kennedy, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
Brian Pearce, Interfaith Network
Hanne Stinson, British Humanist Association

Katie Ghose, Age Concern
Patrick Grattan, Third Age Employment Network
Tessa Harding, Help the Aged

Michelynn Lafleche, Runnymede Trust
Pam Smith, Commission for Racial Equality

Neil Bentley, Confederation of British Industry (CBI)
Sarah Spencer, University of Oxford
Colm O’Cinneide, University College London
Francesca Klug, London School of Economics
Lucy Anderson, Trades Union Congress (TUC)
Frances Butler, British Institute of Human Rights
Lorraine Gradwell, Small Business Council (DTI)
John Wilkes, Equality Coordinating Group (and EoC Scotland)
Teresa Rees, University of Cardiff
Ros Hardie Ejiohuo, London Borough of Croydon
Mandy Wright, Employers’ Organisation for Local Government

Nick O’Brien, Disability Rights Commission
Andy Rickell, British Council of Disabled People
Sexual Orientation
Ben Summerskill, Stonewall


She said: “If plans to create a new single equalities body are going to have any credibility whatsoever it must have a membership that can carry grassroots views along with it.

“I am extremely disappointed that the government could not find room on the taskforce for people who took a sceptical line, and those representing grassroots black and minority ethnic groups.

“From the feedback I’ve been getting it is clear a top-down imposition of these changes will not go down well at all.

“There is a lot of confusion at the grassroots about these proposals with the feeling of little consultation, and as news spreads we are getting people telling us they do not want a single equalities body.

“It is important these views are listened to if any new body is to have legitimacy.”


There are also concerns that CEHR could be an organisation focussed on promoting equalities generally rather than enforcing laws when discrimination has actually occurred.

Critics have also questioned how the CEHR would work in practice as it is not underpinned by any single equalities act of parliament, and that laws governing different equalities areas are very different.

There are also fears that a ‘pecking order’ of equalities would develop, leading to turf wars between different equalities lobbies.

Simon Woolley, head of Operation Black Vote, recently wrote an article in The Guardian newspaper headlined ‘Don’t Decommission Us’, and believes there are growing doubts over the proposals to merge seven equalities subjects together.

He warned: “Black people have fought long and hard to get the CRE and the race laws. We are not going to give this up lightly. As people become more aware of this they will demand that the agenda is set from the grassroots, not an ivory tower.”

Rev Arlington Trotman, from Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, said that membership of the taskforce had “not been done very well in terms of broad representation of groups affected by the new commission.”

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