EHRC calls for greater transparency over cuts decisions

EHRC calls for greater transparency over cuts decisions

The Government made "serious efforts" to consider the impact on equality on the decisions taken in its 2010 Spending Review, although in at least three cases it is unclear whether it fully complied with equality legislation, according to a study by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

The Commission's report considers the extent to which the decision-making by ministers and Treasury officials met legal obligations to consider the impact on equality when completing the Spending Review. It is the first time an assessment of this kind and scale has been undertaken and the EHRC says the UK is unique in having a public sector equality duty and adds that it is only a recent innovation, under the 2010 Equality Act.

The report commends Ministers and officials for "serious" efforts to meet the requirements of their obligations. It looked at nine particular cases and found that in six the Treasury acted in accordance with the requirements under the equality duties: - Removing Child Benefit from households with a higher rate taxpayer
- Reform of Legal Aid
- A £2.5 billion pupil premium for disadvantaged children
- Removal of mobility component of Disability Living Allowance from claimants in residential care homes
- 10 per cent reduction in Council Tax Benefit expenditure, and localisation
- Time-limiting the contributory Employment and Support Allowance to one year for those in the Work Related Activity Group

However, in three cases, the Commission says that it was unable to establish whether or not the decisions were in full accord with the requirements of the duty because of a lack of clarity as to a) where the true site of the decisions lay and b) whether or not some decisions were the responsibility of other government departments or the government as a whole.

These cases are: - Introduction of a household benefits cap. There was no evidence of any gender analysis or equality screening of the measure provided to HM Treasury ministers prior to the announcement of the measure.
- Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG). The potential impact on people with disabilities was not included in the advice provided to HM Treasury ministers.
- Replacing Education Maintenance Allowance with local discretionary funds. There was no reference to ethnicity, disability or gender in information provided to HM Treasury ministers.

The Commission says it believes that it would be disproportionate to take further formal action in these three specific decisions. Its report, however, calls for greater transparency in future reviews, including the development of a common model of analysis to predict the likely equality effects of policy  and  earlier use of the equality duties to ensure better targeting of funds and greater value for money.

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: "This has been an unprecedented exercise by the Commission. We were helped immensely by the openness of Ministers in particular the Chief Secretary, who gave evidence, and the Chancellor. We believe that our recommendations will go a long way to making sure that all parts of government are better able to meet their legal obligations, and more importantly to make decisions which are fairer, and seen to be fairer.

"The key point for the Commission's work is not to judge the past, but to transform the future. I am particularly pleased that the government has indicated that it will work with us over the next few years to make sure that the equality impact of policy is fully understood and taken into account before decisions are made. That we think will lead to more targeted spending, more effective use of public money, and above all greater fairness all round."

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