Friday, 10 December 2010

Equality & Human Rights Commission to assess the Spending Review’s compliance with Equality Law

The Equality and Human Rights Commission on the 25th November 2010 started a process to carry out a formal, independent assessment of the extent to which the Treasury has met its legal obligations to consider the impact on protected groups of decisions contained in the Spending Review.

The assessment is to be conducted under powers granted to the Commission under section 31 of the 2006 Equality Act.

Under the public sector equality duties, covering race, gender and disability, the Treasury, like all public bodies, has a legal duty to pay 'due regard' to equality and consider any disproportionate impact on protected groups when making decisions, including decisions about the budget. Where decisions are found to have a disproportionate impact on a particular group protected by the legislation, public bodies must consider what actions can be taken to avoid, mitigate or justify that impact.

The Commission’s role is to ensure that the Treasury has complied with its legal obligations; the start of this assessment should not be taken as an indication that the Treasury has not done so. The assessment is an opportunity for the Commission to continue its ongoing constructive work with the Treasury to evaluate what steps it has undertaken to comply with the legislation and identify any potential opportunities for improvement. This process will enable lessons to be learnt across Government to improve outcomes for protected groups by putting fairness and transparency at the heart of difficult decisions.

In practical terms, the assessment will be governed by terms of reference, which will be published shortly after consultation with HMT, as required by the 2006 Act. As the assessment unfolds, the Commission will have access to all the relevant information it needs to make a conclusive assessment. Once the assessment is complete, the Commission will report its findings and may make recommendations. If the assessment finds a breach, the Commission can serve a compliance notice, or enter into a binding agreement with the Treasury for it to take steps to avoid further breaches. If a public authority such as the Treasury fails to comply with a compliance notice or the binding agreement, the Commission can apply to a court for an order compelling them to comply.

The Commission aims to publish its final report next Summer

Looking for Training Services regarding Equality - Equal Opportunities - The Equality Act 2010? Find out more at


As a result of public sector duties on race, disability and gender, policy makers have a legal obligation to pay 'due regard' to equality when exercising their functions, including making decisions in relation to spending and proposed budget cuts.

When 'due regard' is applied in practice, it means that they must assess the equality impact of proposed changes to policies, procedures or practices, such as decisions which result from a desire to make savings. This could include decisions such as reorganisations and relocations, redundancies and service reductions programmes. 'Equality Impact Assessments' are a useful means for policy makers to meet this obligation.

The law does not prevent government officials from making difficult decisions. Nor does it stop them from making decisions that may affect one group more than another. The law simply requires that such decisions are made in a fair, transparent and accountable way, considering the needs and the rights of different members of the community. Where decisions are found to have a disproportionate impact on a particular group, authorities must consider what actions can be taken to avoid or mitigate the unfair impact.

Source: The Equality and Human Rights Commission

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