With half of Conservative backbenchers voting against equal marriage Tory attitudes towards equality will no doubt come under the microscope. But here’s another example. The ConservativeHome blog today has described Equality Impact Assessments as “a turd.”
The site, which represents rank-and-file Tories, argues: “Equality Impact Assessments are worse than polishing a turd. They add a new turd. Treat people as individuals and equality on the frontline looks after itself.” In other words abolish the monitoring of equality and equality will happen naturally. Only we won’t know whether it does because there is no monitoring to prove it one way or the other.
The coalition government is currently consulting on Equality Impact Assessments, which all public authorities (and government itself) are currently obliged to do when presenting a new policy. The idea is that by focusing policy-makers minds on the potential negative impact of a policy it will encourage public bodies to design-out discrimination and design-in mechanisms to ensure everyone gets equal access to services.
At the root of Equality Impact Assessments – or EIAs – is a recognition of the concept of institutional racism. The notion that public bodies can unwittingly discriminate against minorities because they are simply not thinking about equality. Of course proof of institutional racism is everywhere as statistics from every area of public life show. From disproportionate rates of BAME unemployment, to rates of homelessness, school exclusions, police stop and search and higher and longer prison sentences. The fact that public authorities and the state discriminate is undeniable.
Yet, according to ConservativeHome, simply shutting our eyes to the reality of racism and absolving public servants of any obligation to think about race equality will somehow make everything better. It is utter nonsense.
Clearly EIAs need to be improved. Many public authorities go through the motions when producing EIAs and many of them aren’t worth the paper they are written on. But this isn’t a reason to abolish them, far from it. They need to be strengthened in order to make them work. And that means making EIAs more structured and evidence-based. Public authorities need to be compelled to look at evidence of unfair outcomes and required to demonstrate how a particular policy will combat it.
Tories may want to throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than nurturing that baby, but that just proves what turds they really are. And we can see that despite David Cameron’s diversity make-over beneath the surface the Tories really haven’t changed their anti-equality spots.
Lib Dem Equality minister Jo Swinson, writing on the Liberal Democrat Voice blog last month, said: “EIAs are not under threat from the Coalition Government but they are a good example of why we need to move beyond a slapdash exercise at the end of the process and make sure equality is rooted in from the beginning.” But the comment thread underneath her article pointed out that EIA’s were indeed under threat.
Indeed in November last year David Cameron announced that EIAs were to be axed in a story that was widely covered in the media. He said: “We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff. So I can tell you today, we are calling time on equality impact assessments. You no longer have to do them if these issues have been properly considered.”
At present there is no indication that Cameron is willing to perform a u-turn on this and if they government press ahead with abolishing EIAs this reflects badly on both coalition parties and speaks volumes about their commitment to a “fairer society”. The basic history of equality is that it has always had to be fought for and while racism and institutional racism exists there is a need for strengthened EIAs that require greater effort on the part of public servants to tackle discrimination.
By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway