Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Government Inequalities Office

The recent newsletter from the Government Equalities Office can basically be summed up as "Well, it's all a bit difficult. Let's not bother". It's the result of their previous "regulation is evil" review.

The measures announced today include:

Repealing Third Party Harassment law, which will ensure employers are no longer liable for the harassment of an employee by a third party (for example, a customer). A consultation on this change is launched today.

The Law Gazette has a summary of the existing law, and the case law it's based on.

Note that it firstly requires this to happen more than once and secondly requires that the employer could reasonably have done something about it but didn't.

The 'Bernard Manning' case (which held that the employer was liable for inviting a racist and sexist comedian to insult their staff, even though the comedian was not a direct employee) is fairly important since third parties include suppliers and contractors.

It's not clear that repealing this part will actually stop employers being liable, as the Equalities Office apparently holds the view that all harassment is direct discrimination, and of course the case law establishing liability predated the law they're going to repeal. Unless they intend to repeal it by adding a statement that employers are explicitly not liable, of course, which is unlikely to stand up in court.


Reviewing the Public Sector Equality Duty - a legal obligation on public bodies to consider the impact of their decisions on different groups - to establish whether it is operating as intended.

Repealing the Socio-Economic Duty - a legal obligation on public bodies to consider the impact of their decisions on social class.

I'd be more worried about the first point if the government had not repeatedly shown that it's completely trivial to ignore it anyway, if you are the government. Repealing the Socio-Economic Duty is hardly surprising either, given how obviously they've been ignoring it so far.


Tackling gold-plating and over-compliance by working with the British Chambers of Commerce to help small-and-medium-sized companies understand what they do and don't need to do in order to comply with the Equality Act.

We must remember that the Act's purpose is to give plausible deniability when people are discriminated against. Some companies have got confused and gone beyond this to attempt to actually stop the discrimination.

Repealing employment tribunals' 'wider recommendations' powers, which will remove the power of tribunals to recommend the introduction of, or changes to, policies that affect all of an employer's staff - not just the employee who brought the case. A consultation on this change is launched today.

We must remember that it is far more effective, and good for the employer, if they have to deal with several separate discrimination cases for the same issue, rather than a tribunal being able to suggest a way to improve general practice after the first one.

The "individual solution to systematic problem" approach of course never fails to keep discriminated-against people from causing too much trouble.

And a bunch to do with the EHRC

Repealing unnecessary powers and duties. Some of the EHRC's powers and duties under the Equality Act 2006 will be scrapped in order to help it focus on its core functions.

Tighter financial controls. The EHRC will comply with government-wide spending rules - in particular, controls on recruitment, consultancy and marketing.

Budget review. The EHRC's budget was cut by over half as part of the 2010 Spending Review. There will now be a comprehensive review of the remainder of the EHRC's budget, to be completed this autumn.

New leadership. A new Chairman and a new, smaller Board will be recruited.

"Having funding, powers, and staff is interfering with the EHRC's duty to pretend everything is fine. We will review this."

They're not necessarily the most useful or sensible organisation, but I doubt these changes will help.

...all in all, about what you'd expect from the Conservative Party.

About four years ago, you couldn't talk about an issue like this without a Lib Dem popping up to say that they were the only major party to have:

Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.

in their Constitution. The lack of an entry for "social class" is telling, in light of the above repeals, isn't it.

I haven't seen a Lib Dem mention that for a while now. Whether that's because there are fewer Lib Dems or because they've realised that like a lot of Constitutional statements it's basically meaningless words, I'm not sure.