It is 'political correctness' gone mad, Peter Hitchens spluttered, having picked up on the fact that public bodies are under a duty to consider whether their policies and practice are unfair to vulnerable groups of people. No, no, Clare Short intervened, the press must be exaggerating as usual. A brief - and indicative - exchange on the Alan Marr show.
Actually, all public bodies are obliged to have "due regard" to the impact on people of their actions on grounds of gender, race and disability. Under the Equality Act, this duty should soon extend to age, sexual orientation, pregnancy, maternity and religion or belief. For now, HM Treasury, along with local councils and other bodies, must observe their current duties.
So has the Treasury done so in the Spending Review that is even now decimating benefits and services across the country? Well, you now have an opportunity to participate in holding the Treasury to account. Under section 31 of the Equality Act, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is conducting an assessment of whether the Treasury has paid due regard to the impact on people in terms of their gender, race or disability. This process began in November and interested parties can submit evidence to the EHRC up to 14 March. There is even a dedicated area on the EHRC's website to assist anyone or any body with an interest.
Hold on though. The Treasury says that it is already committed to a far wider set of responsibities. Its guide to "appraisal and evaluation" - the Green Book - suggests that the Treasury already feels bound by a range of international conventions, including the UN International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, and that they "should inform the development of policy". I am indebted to Aofie Nolan, of Durham University, for this insight into the hypocrisy of governance in the UK. She was co-manager of the Queen's University, Belfast budget analysis project, which inquired into the budgeting dimensions of the requirements that the ICESCR demands of all signatory nations, including the UK. One of these requirements is that there should be no "retrogression" in realising such rights. Perhaps a response to the EHRC's assessment could encompass these requirements too?
To submit a third party representation on whether the Treasury is abiding by the Public Sector Equality Duties, visit the EHRC website. Submissions will be accepted until Monday 14 March at 5pm.
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