This article titled “Treasury failed to test fairness of spending cuts, equality watchdog finds” was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Monday 14th May 2012 00.05 Europe/London
The Treasury failed to consider how crucial policies would affect women, disabled people and ethnic minorities before the 2010 spending review, according to a report by the equality watchdog.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it was “unable to establish” whether the coalition checked its proposals meant for vulnerable people – despite this being a legal necessity.
In key areas of policy, the government appeared to set aside equality legislation in the rush to push through eyecatching policies. Under the law, ministers must determine the effects of proposals, and mitigate or justify them so that outcomes are fairer.
The report says the government has not “fully grasped … the requirements of public sector equality duties”. It censures the Treasury, saying the cumulative effects of policies on vulnerable groups was not considered in a “meaningful or comprehensive way”.
For the first time tIn the first report of its kind, the commission considered nine policies and concluded that in six areas – child benefit, council tax, the pupil premium, legal aid, disability living allowance and employment support – the government fulfilled its equality obligations.
The Treasury was found lacking in three areas. In the capping of household benefits – limiting welfare to £500 a week for couples and lone parent households – the policy was announced before its impact on women was known. When 20% was cut from low fares subsidies to bus services, ministers did not examine the effect on disabled people.
The most glaring omission appears to be of an equality analysis concerning withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance (EMA), which paid up to £30 a week to poor teenagers who stayed on at school or college beyond 16.
Although almost half of children from ethnic minorities live in low-income households – compared with a quarter of white British children – the commission discovered the decision to halt the subsidy had been made without any reference to ethnicity.
The commission found the Treasury often batted away arguments on gender by saying it did not have the information required to make judgments. However, the report says, officials could “consider the impact on sub-groups of women or groups where women are over-represented … for example, just over 90% of lone parents are women”.
For the Treasury to continue to disregard these sub-groups, the commission warns, may be breaking the law by enforcing indirect discrimination.
For example the report says: “A policy which puts part-time workers at a particular disadvantage would be unlawful as proportionately more part-time workers are women … Other departments, such as the DWP [Department of Work and Pensions], conduct analysis of sub-groups as part of their equality assessments.”
In some instances, data was only made available to the Treasury shortly before the spending review. Equality data for controversial legal aid cuts – which included removing support for victims of domestic violence – was given to the Treasury “days before” the review was published.
The commission’s report follows a legal case brought by the Fawcett Society, which campaigns on women’s rights, in August 2010. Campaigners argued the government could not show it had assessed whether the emergency budget in June that year would increase or reduce inequality between women and men.
In court Justice Ouseley refused a judicial review, saying analysis of the government’s spending plans would be better carried out by the EHRC. Trevor Phillips, its chair, agreed. He said the report would lead to “more targeted spending, more effective use of public money, and above all greater fairness all round”.
Labour has calculated that 75% of the £15bn in spending cuts since 2010 has fallen on women’s shoulders. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary and shadow minister for women and equalities, said: “This report shows ministers didn’t even properly consider the impact of their plans on inequality in advance … The government didn’t stop to consider the overall impact on inequality, and ministers didn’t insist on proper information about whether measures would be unfair before they took their decisions.”
Campaigners welcomed the report but said it had taken too long – the commission started its work in November 2010.
Ceri Goddard, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “We are now seeing the impact that was entirely predictable: women’s unemployment is at a 25-year high, women are being worst hit by cuts to benefits and women are also acting as shock absorbers for cuts to public services.”
The Treasury said it had cooperated fully with the commission. A spokeswoman said: “In the spending review the government had to take tough decisions to cut the deficit and put the public finances back on a stable footing. But the government has made these decisions in the fairest way possible.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
- Ministers failed to take full account of cuts impact, says equality watchdog(independent.co.uk)
- Cuts project ‘lacks clarity’ over equality(scotsman.com)