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‘Whitewash’ for single equalities body

By Lester Holloway

MOVES TO create a single equalities body have been branded a ‘whitewash’ after a government committee sidelined race equality in a report

Bert Massie
Bert Massie: congratulated on his leadership

Campaigners expressed disappointment at the ‘colour-blind’ report of a government-appointed taskforce working on the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

Positive sections referring to Scotland, Wales and disabilities were welcomed, but questions were being asked why race was invisible.

In October the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) announced that their hand-picked taskforce, chaired by trade minister Jacqui Smith, would meet for 12 months.

But activists have expressed surprise that a final report has been produced after just six months, with the taskforce having only met six times.

Concern over the marginalising of race was raised at a meeting on CEHR at Southwark Cathedral yesterday, organised by the Runnymede Trust.

Questions about the colourblind nature of the taskforce report were put to the ‘race’ representatives, who were all white. The DTI had invited race representatives from the Runnymede Trust and the CRE However one well-placed source, who did not want to be named, told Blink: “If the CRE and Runnymede cannot come up with one Black delegate between then we are in a very sorry state indeed.”


The 24-page final report of the taskforce, which Blink received yesterday, makes 17 references to ‘disabled’ or ‘disabilities’, ten mentions for ‘Scotland and Wales’, but just three for ‘race’ and ‘racial’.

Bishop Joe Aldred
Bishop Joe Aldred: black people not consulted

Referring to a minimum quota of disabled people on the CEHR board the report noted: ‘the particular history and development of the disability rights movement, disabled people were unlikely to have confidence in the CEHR unless disabled people themselves participated on the Board.’

Karen Chouhan, chief executive of The 1990 Trust, said she was pleased that representatives who were vocal on the taskforce had some of their concerns reflected in the report.

But she added: “The complete colour-blind nature of the document backs up what we’ve feared since the taskforce was set up last November. We said right from the start there was an important principle of Black people speaking for ourselves. The report looks like a whitewash, literally.

“We welcome wholeheartedly the specific references made to disabilities and other areas, and I wish to applaud the representatives battling for recognition for extremely important subjects.


The disabilities case was led in the taskforce by Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), who was vocal in raising issues on the taskforce.

The report found “there was a good deal of understanding among taskforce members of the concerns of disability organisations about the establishment of the CEHR.

“There was more limited consensus on the proposals for a Disability Committee with delegated decision-making powers, to roll forward the provisions for ensuring disabled people make up at least 50% of any decision-making body, as is currently the case with the DRC.”

Bishop Joe Aldred from the Free Churches Group said black communities had not been properly consulted about plans to scrap the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and the gender-specific Equal Opportunities Commission (EoC) in favour of merging them with sexual orientation, age, human rights and religion.

Speaking at the Runnymede meeting, he said: “I struggle to recall any black person expressing agreement over this. Now I find myself here today faced with something that is fait au compli even though in the end it will be said that we were part of the process. I feel very uncomfortable today validating this process.”


Judy Richards from the South East Race Equality Network said her experience of local councils was that whenever race was merged with other equalities subjects, race fell down the pecking order.

quoteIt doesn’t matter whether it is full of Eskimos, the question is: does it have the powers to enforce the law?

CRE chief Trevor Phillips

“Having seen this happen in local government people are saying they’ve got nothing. At least we’ve got the CRE to turn to. They do not feel a single equalities body will understand what they, as black people, are going through.

“Nothing is inevitable. I’m fed up being told things are inevitable, that there’s nothing we can do. The CRE might be a mess, but it’s our mess.”

Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote, who was also at the meeting, said that if confidence in the process was going to be restored “there needs to be the good grace to say there are areas that could have been done better.”

He said: “These issues are at the heart of people’s frustrations and anxieties. They feel the process was flawed from the start.” But taskforce member Mohammed Aziz responded that the government had received ‘overwhelming support’ for the CEHR proposals.

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The 1990 Trust’s response to the CEHR White Paper

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