Opinion: equal rights for women or business as usual?
You can say what you like about the UK coalition government, but they do not believe in slow news weeks.
And what an exciting week for the systematic reduction of equalities and human rights it’s already shaping up to be.
Introduced in April 2011 and barely a year old, the duty outlines the responsibility of public authorities to assess the impact of policies on vulnerable groups, including women.
This decision oddly coincides with recent findings from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that the coalition failed to meet its responsibility under the Equality Duty in 2010 – namely, its responsibility to properly evaluate the 2010 spending review, including with regard to gender.
The Commission found that various measures have been pushed through government with “no evidence of any gender analysis or equality screening,” including plans to impose a £26,000 cap on household benefits and cutting the Educational Maintenance Allowance.
A Treasury spokesman reported to the Telegraph that “the government has made these decisions in the fairest way possible.”
However, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, Ceri Goddard begged to differ.
“The report finds that the government could have done much more to comply with the letter and the spirit of the law, and that they could have better used the analysis they did undertake to inform policy – leading to fairer outcomes for women and other groups.
“More than a year and a half after the 2010 budget…we are now seeing the impact that was entirely predictable – women’s unemployment is at a 25 year high, women are being worse hit by cuts to benefits and women are also acting as shock absorbers for cuts to public services.”
The Fawcett society recently joined with over 20 academics, organisations and trade unions to make a series of recommendations aimed at addressing the disproportionate impact of the cuts on women.
Meanwhile, back at the Home Office, as a reward for the EHRC’s vigilance in acting as the government’s critical friend on equal rights, plans are afoot to reform the Commission, including scrapping “some unnecessary powers and duties.”
I suspect that one of the powers the government would particularly like to scrap is EHRC’s annoying habit of pointing out that the government isn’t very good at supporting equality.
Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone explained, “Since its creation, the EHRC has struggled to deliver across its remit and has not demonstrated good value for money.”
Of course, the EHRC’s ‘struggle to deliver’ might also be a result of struggling to keep up with the government’s relentless attack on equalities.
Clearly on an ‘equalities roll’, the Home Office also announced plans yesterday to simplify the Equality Act as part of its Red Tape Challenge — a bit like the Pepsi Taste Challenge, but more likely to decimate social justice.
Theresa ‘two jobs’ May, Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, said: “Bureaucracy and prescription are not routes to equality. Over-burdening business benefits no one, and real change doesn’t come from telling people what to do.”
No, apparently real change comes about by letting huge power interests do what they want.
Once again, Fawcett has been quick to sound the alarm on the government’s plans.
“Going forward,” Goddard said, “we are concerned that important equalities legislation is not seen as simply burdensome red tape – rather government should see it as a tool to help them deliver on their stated aims of fairness and transparency, especially in times of austerity.”
The government’s decision to frame its reduction of the mechanisms that monitor and improve equality as a “boost to employers” is interesting.
It seems to imply there is a choice to be made between business interests and the rights of workers. Judging by the Home Office’s headline of “Equality reforms cut burden on business,” it seems clear which side the government favours.
So the moral of the story?
Beware of governments offering to help ‘reduce your burden’, particularly if what they are offering to take off your hands are your own human rights.