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Enforcement of equality law ‘off the agenda’ in single equalities


ACTIVISTS HAVE expressed anger that a government taskforce to create a new single equalities body have sidelined enforcement of anti-discrimination law

Jacqui Smith
DTI minister Jacqui Smith takes an active interest in work of the CEHR taskforce

The taskforce working to create a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) have approved a paper which avoids references to taking legal action against companies or public bodies that have discriminated.

Instead of enforcing equalities law the paper, called ‘General Functions, Powers and Duties of the CEHR’, refers to encouraging good practice and promoting equality of opportunity.

The document will confirm the fears of some observers who believed the Department of Trade and Industry, who are overseeing the creation of the CEHR, always intended to have a ‘neutered’ body which will not cause waves.

Former CRE chairman Lord Herman Ouseley warned in October last year of his fears that the new body would be focused on soft areas like equalities promotion rather than taking on organisations who consistently discriminate.

He said: “If we’ve got legislation that isn’t capable of being enforced effectively because the body are busy doing promotional work, and are fudging their responsibilities under the law, then it won’t work.

promotional duties
Taskforce members

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)
John Wilkes, Equality Coordinating Group (and EoC Scotland)
Frances Butler, British Institute of Human Rights
Lorraine Gradwell, Small Business Council (DTI)
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

“The vast majority of people who discriminate on grounds of whatever do so because they know they’re not going to be caught.”

However that message appears to have been ignored, as the CEHR taskforce paper concentrates on ‘promotional’ duties in meetings attended by DTI minister Jacqui Smith.

The only section of the taskforce paper dealing with equalities legislation states that CEHR’s functions should include ‘making people aware of their [legal] rights’, offering advice, and ‘assisting individuals to enforce their rights; issuing codes of practice on… compliance with the legislation.’

However critics say this is a world away from having a body which is not afraid to take on test cases and extend equalities law, or mount individual investigations into companies or public bodies.

The new taskforce paper refers to ‘general investigations’ into issues, but campaigners believe this does not compare to the type of individual race discrimination investigations carried out in the past by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) into Ford motor company or more recently the police.


Under government plans the CRE will be axed in favour of merging it with the gender-specific Equal Opportunities Commission (EoC), and the Disability Rights Commission. The CEHR body will also cover religion, sexual orientation, age discrimination and human rights.

Fears have been expressed that the new CEHR taskforce has been handpicked by the DTI to include as many supporters of the merger as possible, and exclude grassroots minority ethnic organisations and critical voices.

Paul Phoenix of campaign group Black Parents in Education, said: “Legislation can only be as strong as the methods used to enforce it. Without enforcement people are going to walk all over us.”

And former CRE commissioner Shushila Patel said: “The CRE has always had enforcement as one of it’s three tiers. If enforcement is diluted completely then that is something that needs to be queried.”

See also:

Stitch-up claims over new single equalities body

Squad to design new equalities commission lacks black grassroots credibility

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