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CRE vote to kill off single equalities plans

Exclusive by Lester Holloway

PROPOSALS FOR a new single equalities body were described as ‘dead in the water’ after the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) unanimously decided to reject a merger with other anti-discrimination issues

Trevor Phillips
Trevor Phillips: opposing single equalities body

CRE chair Trevor Phillips described the merger as “the wrong proposal at the wrong time” after CRE commissioners voted to reject government plans to combine race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, disability, age and human rights in one organisation.

The merger has attracted sharp criticism from black groups, and MP’s, who say a single equalities body will create a ‘hierarchy of equalities’ and that the plans offered no new powers for race equality.

The 1990 Trust, which has led criticism of the plans, is now engaged in a country-wide consultation with Black communities. The first two of eight regional meetings have seen near total opposition to the proposals.

Yesterday CRE commissioners agreed to ‘unequivocally reject’ the government’s White Paper called Fairness for All. The CRE board believes the single equalities body would dilute the focus on enforcing race laws, moving to a more soft-focused ‘promotional’ role.

Karen Chouhan, chief executive of The 1990 Trust, said: “The CRE have officially recognised what many grassroots organisations have been saying from the start.

equalities mush

“The proposals as they stand would be a bad deal for race, and risks losing the hard-fought for gains made over the last 30 years. The government cannot now move forward without the support of the CRE, Black communities and an increasing number of Black parliamentarians.

Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz: plans will create hierarchy of equalities

“We call on the government to listen to Black communities and start consulting on what they want and need. What they clearly don’t want is some great equalities mush and a pecking order of equalities.

“The White Paper is divisive, vague and white. The CRE’s position marks the end of the road for the current plans, but hopefully the start of a new road which will lead to better proposals.”

Lee Jasper, race advisor to London Mayor Ken Livingstone, commented: “The CRE’s declaration of total opposition to the single equalities body leaves these particular proposals dead in the water.”

Livingstone has described the plans as creating an ‘unaccountable monolith’ which would not speak for Black communities or have their confidence. Black and Minority Ethnic MP’s are also increasingly opposed to the single equality body.


MP’s Keith Vaz, Diane Abbott and Oona King, and peers Baronesses Howells and Uddin and Lord Dholakia have all expressed private doubts to Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt, who is driving the plans forward through the DTI.

Karen Chouhan
The CRE have officially recognised what many grassroots organisations have been saying from the start. It is a bad deal for race
Karen Chouhan, The 1990 Trust

Vaz told Blink: “I welcome the decision taken by the CRE because I don’t believe the single equalities body would be in the best interests of Black and Ethnic Minority communities.

“We need to have a modernised CRE with effective powers and the ability to deliver on a race equality agenda. Merely putting it into a new commission with other types of discrimination is not the answer.”

Trevor Phillips was known to be concerned for some time that the White Paper failed to offer any ‘value added’, that there were no new powers on race. He had previously warned he was prepared to walk away from the plans if his ‘red lines’ were not met.

Critics of the single equalities body have said the absence of any separate race-specific departments or committees dealing with race would mean expertise on race would be lost.


More recently it has become increasingly clear that a new single equalities body would be hamstrung by a severe lack of resources at a time when the Chancellor Gordon Brown is looking to slash non-frontline government costs.

CRE commissioners were concerned that the White Paper, which was launched May and is currently being consulted on, actually reduced 15 race powers, including making it harder to launch formal investigations into companies accused of serious race discrimination practices.

Trevor Phillips said: “As far as we are concerned this is the wrong proposal at the wrong time. We want to remain engaged in the debate on the best way forward for equality, and are keen to work jointly with the other equality strands.”

The CRE’s position leaves open the possibility that Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt may go ahead with the single equalities body – known as the Commission for Equality and Human Rights – but keep the CRE.

Responding to the CRE Hewitt was quoted in today’s Guardian as saying: “The CRE isn’t in support of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights when racial issues are at the top of the political agenda.”

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