Government U-Turn on Equality Duties may reduce need for Diversity Specialists

In a surprise announcement Theresa May Minister for Equalities and Women has commissioned a policy review on the specific equality duties that were due to come into force on April 6th. Of note fundamental changes have been proposed to draft legislation published on January 12th 2011. The policy review proposals suggest organisations with more than 150 staff may no longer be required to publish data demonstrating
 
• Engagement they have undertaken when determining their policies;
• Engagement they have undertaken when determining their equality objectives;
• Equality analysis they have undertaken in reaching their policy decisions; and Information they considered when undertaking such analysis.
 
Many equality practitioners are left questioning how policy decisions can be fair let alone inclusive without the need for transparent engagement. If these changes are approved this would potentially see a dramatic drop in public sector bodies conducting equality impact assessments, and monitoring of how diverse workforces or service users are. Much of the work historically to meet the considerations has been performed by Equality and Diversity Managers, or Consultants. The Telegraph estimates the cost of the compliance reaches a figure of around 29.8 Million, potentially a huge saving for a Coalition Government tasked with reducing the deficit.  At the same time many diversity practitioners contracted or employed in this field may see their roles disappear.
 
The past decades policies have favoured diversity practitioner work strongly, Consultants and specialist Diversity roles have been in abundance. Now much of that may be undone within a year of the Coalition Government’s tenure. Practitioners in the field may feel like their worlds have turned upside down. Many may have hoped that they would be heavily involved in formulating the data required for public scrutiny. This does not appear to be the case anymore
 
Speaking about the proposals Theresa May said
 
 “We have considered the draft regulations further in the light of our policy objective of ensuring that public bodies consider equality when carrying out their functions without imposing unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy. As a result, we think there is room to do more to strip out unnecessary process requirements.”
 
Linda Bellos of the Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners has slammed the proposals as going back to the 80’s, commenting on the changes she said:
 
“In my view these proposals especially those in paragraph 14 will, if implemented, take us back to days when the loudest voices prevails. These changes go beyond reducing bureaucracy they are both ideological and regressive to the point of hostility to equality”
 
Was the U-turn fuelled by the governments embarrassing defeat in the courts? The Infamous Building Schools for the Future case hinged on the government not undertaking the correct equality impact assessments when scrapping plans to build new schools. If more Austerity measures are to come this could be a welcome loss of a legal obstacle.  
 
The Coalition argue that by removing the administration and analysis public bodies will deliver better on equalities, and they will be better able to comply with the specific duties. Those working in the field seem sceptical. Are Diversity Practitioners merely gatekeepers clinging onto their positions or could the coalition be making a huge mistake with its equalities agenda leading to an 80’s style era of widening inequalities?  
 
To view the consultation click here:
 
 http://www.equalities.gov.uk/pdf/110317%20Public%20sector%20Equality%20Duty%20-%20Policy%20review%20paper.pdf
 
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