In April 2011 the Government launched the Red Tape Challenge, a website which invites members of the public to comment on statutory rules and regulations. In the first two months the Government asked simply whether the Equality Act 2010 (primary legislation of 239 pages) should be scrapped or retained. Of the nearly 6000 responses 96% said do not scrap the Act.
Then the Secretary of State for Equalities announced that the Government did not intend to repeal the Act. This approach, especially when taken with the proposed changes to the role of the EHRC (consultation on the reform of the EHRC closed on 15/6/11) suggests that the Government are considering a significant watering down of both the Equality Act 2006 (which sets out the EHRC’s duties, powers and remit) and the Equality Act 2010. Should this happen, rights to race equality will be significantly reduced.
The Runnymede Trust is concerned about the increasingly frequent classification of discrimination protection as unimportant and a ‘burden on business’, rather than as a basic right. If the Government believes that the obligation to treat people in a non-discriminatory way can be trumped by the demands of business to maximize profits, then it undermines the foundation of our democracy and risks its legitimacy to govern.
The Runnymede Trust Recommendations:
· The Government should ensure that any person who considers they have suffered discrimination, harassment, victimization or other conduct prohibited under the Equality Act 2010 is able to receive free and `timely skilled advice on their rights and assistance in seeking legal redress.
· The Government should adopt appropriate provisions to prohibit multiple discrimination and retain the important protection of employees against harassment by a third party.
· The Government should provide more effective leadership on equality in the private sector, by at minimum not referring to rights to equality and non-discrimination as ‘burdens on business’ and ‘unnecessary red tape’.