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Disappointment over White Paper on the single equalities body – no new powers or cash

12/5/2004

CAMPAIGNERS HAVE accused the government of adopting an ‘assimilation’ model for equalities as the White Paper merging seven equalities areas was launched today

Patricia Hewitt and Tony Blair
Colourblind: Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt and Prime Minister Tony Blair

Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt plans to abolish the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the commissions representing disabled people and women. Sexual orientation, age, religion and human rights will also come under the same roof.

Some activists have expressed disappointment over the failure to offer any new enforcement powers. There is also anger over the absence of ‘stranding’ to protecting the status of each subject area. Instead all equality issues are being brought together in what some fear will be ‘an equalities mush’. However others believe the body will be a champion of diversity, ‘levelling-up’ anti-discrimination initiatives across the whole equalities spectrum.

Race activists are furious that the proposed new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) would have no departments or units specialising in separate equalities topics. There is also no provision for specific committees or places on the board for individual subject areas other than disabilities, Scotland and Wales.

‘equalities mush’

The lack of ‘stranding’ has heightened concerns that a pecking order, or ‘hierarchy of equalities’ will develop in the new body.

View the government white paper on the Single Equalities Commission:
Pdf, requires software such as adobe acrobat to viewFairness For All: A New Commission for Equality and Human Rights (pdf 1.8 Mb)
The 1990 Trust’s response to the White Paper

speech bubbleYour Shout!

Have your say on the new single equalities White Paper. Click here to make a contribution and read responses

The CRE gave a notably low key, lukewarm response to the White Paper, in stark contrast to the full and enthusiastic welcome given by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) and Equal Opportunities Commission (EoC) who also face abolition under the plans. CRE chair Trevor Phillips did not give any interviews.

The CRE only produced a short lukewarm statement which failed to explicitly endorse the White Paper. That is bound to fuel speculation that the paper did not meet Phillips’ minimum demands.

In March Phillips told Blink he would be prepared to walk away unless ‘red lines’ were met. He said: “We’ve got to have the right resources, the right expertise; and we have got to keep and enhance the legal powers we’ve got at the moment. If that isn’t what takes place then I’m not interested. I don’t think there is any reason that says it will automatically happen.”
Today a bland CRE statement merely said: “We remain in favour of the creation of a single equality body in principle… we will be studying the White Paper closely to see whether it measures up to this ambition.”

Frankenstein

Speaking yesterday former CRE chairman Lord Herman Ouseley told Blink: “This body has to offer something better than what we have now. If it doesn’t then there’s no point in doing it.”

But the White Paper released today offered only the same powers currently used by the existing commissions covering race, gender and disabilities.

Karen Chouhan, chief executive of The 1990 Trust, said: “Unfortunately the White Paper has raised more questions than it answers. In many respects it represents a very bad deal for equalities.

“All the emphasis has been put on the promotion of equalities rather than enforcement. All the talk is of multiple identities not specific forms of discrimination. It looks like Frankenstein’s monster with no teeth, and suffering from an acute identity crisis.

“I am disappointed the government have failed to take the opportunity to strengthen enforcement powers over and above what we already have at the moment.

colour-blind

“What seems to be on offer is the same powers, almost certainly less resources, and a misguided colour-blind approach that says you can tackle seven quite distinct equalities in some nebulous joined-up way.

Karen Chouhan
Karen Chouhan: fears an ‘assimilation model’

“We are in danger of winding the clock back 30 years to the assimilation debates of the past, and the proposals as they stand will inevitably mean a pecking order of equalities will develop.”

The White Paper, called ‘Fairness For All: A New Commission for Equality and Human Rights’, was welcomed by the DRC and EoC, who offered full statements from their respective chairs Bert Massie and Julie Mellor. The proposals were also welcomed by many other groups including the Fawcett Society, CBI, and Age Concern.

Launching the White Paper, trade secretary Hewitt said the key issue was ‘multiple identities’, and that people should have access to a body that embraced various forms of discrimination rather than going to several different organisations.

She said: “In a world where individual identities are becoming increasingly important we need to see people as a whole – not put them in boxes marked race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability.”

But Rajinder Sohpal, director of Reading Race Equality Council, said it was necessary to see both multiple identities and separate stranding together. This would give the new body “strength and depth without becoming a homogenous [organisation] where people are frightened of saying anything.”

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Resources:

Teeth and their use

Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society: One year On

The Zahid Mubarek Inquiry

pdf Dept. for Communities & Local Government Citizenship Survey

Responses to the Equalities Review Interim Report

The 1990 Trust Response to The Equalities Review Interim Report

Equalities Review Interim Report Briefing – Addressing Race Equality

pdf Our Rights, Our Future

pdf Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society: The Government's race strategy

CRE response to DTI Statement on Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Equality and Diversity Forum welcomes the progress on a Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Summary of Changes to the CEHR

The 1990 Trust’s response to the CEHR White Paper

pdf Delivering equality and human rights for black and minority ethnic communities

Flush the academic racism in Blunkett’s office down the pan

Jacqui Smith answers questions on the Single Equalities Body

How to Contact your MP

Links:

Race and Faith and Communities

Election Memory

Catalyst Magazine

UNITE TO PROTECT OUR RIGHTS: sign the statement against the erosion of civil liberties and human rights by new anti-terrorism proposals A Black Manifesto No 2 ID FREE FAROUQ PDP ASSOCIATES Power to the People

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