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New Equality Commission to fight discrimination

30th Oct 2003
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A new Equality Commission to fight discrimination and challenge inequality was announced today by Patricia Hewitt and Lord Falconer.

Under the plans, the work of existing equality commissions will come together to give greater support and more joined-up advice to individuals, businesses and communities to crackdown on discrimination, and promote equality and diversity. For the first time - via the new body - the Government will provide support for the promotion of human rights.

The new body, provisionally called the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), will bring together the work of three existing equality commissions - the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission and take responsibility for new laws outlawing workplace discrimination on age, religion or belief and sexual orientation.

Patricia Hewitt, Trade and Industry Secretary and Minister for Women said: "By bringing these bodies into one organisation we will make life much easier for individuals to get help and advice, especially when they are discriminated against on more than one level."

The CEHR aims to improve the existing situation where an individual's problems are often pigeonholed into one category (race, gender or disability) when things can be more complicated. People often have multiple identities with equality issues i.e. - an employee could be an ethnic minority woman with an equal pay issue.

Lord Falconer, Secretary of State at the Department for
Constitutional Affairs said: "Human rights and equality are two sides of a single coin - respect for the dignity and the value of each person. The CEHR will champion human rights good practice and responsibilities."

Ms Hewitt also announced that she was setting up a task force with members reflecting different equality interests to advise on the governance and structure of the new body ahead of a White Paper next spring.

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By AnonymousUser
30th Oct 2003 12:47

The Government’s proposals for a single equality body may lead to cuts in resources and the swamping of the interests of disabled people.

Disability discrimination is different. Other discrimination often relates to categories of people. In the case of disabled people, discrimination is often personal to the individual; it’s often about the failure to make the adjustments that he or she needs. So tackling the problem often requires expert knowledge of the particular impairment.

Expertise needed to tackle disability discrimination cases could be lost or diluted as a result of a merger.

The interests of disabled people could become swamped – as happened in New Zealand when a single body was created. Currently, it is required that half the members of the Disability Rights Commission are disabled. In the reforms, it’s vital that disabled people remain involved in decision-making.

But provided that the special knowledge and skills required for combating disability discrimination can be preserved in the single body’s structure, the introduction of the single equality body is to be welcomed.

The merger of the EOC, CRE, and DRC could also be used as an excuse for cost savings, leading to inadequate service provision. In Australia, for example, there was a 40% budget cut following a similar merger. The Government should give assurances about resources.

But a unified body could have advantages:

A single equality body will get a stronger media profile and political influence – that’s happened in other countries.

Employers and service providers would benefit from a single source of advice and a consistent approach.

A human rights based approach to equality could be successfully fostered.

The experience in Northern Ireland shows that the transition to a merged body needs to be planned with care.

A single Equality Act should be brought in at the same time – unified legislation to get rid of the present conflicts and anomalies, and provide everyone with consistent easy-to-follow standards.

Declan O’Dempsey, practising barrister at Cloisters.

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