Join Date: Feb 2006
£30m - to find out if preserving fish hurts the Chinese
The Government has been accused of wasting tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to comply with controversial new equality laws that force organisations to prove they are not discriminating against minority groups.
Whitehall departments have already issued a string of bizarre reports to meet the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) paid £100,000 to consultants who produced a report investigating how efforts to boost Britain’s coastal fish stocks would affect minority communities including the Chinese, homosexuals and Welsh speakers.
And the Department for Transport issued a study this month looking at harassment and discrimination on ships and hovercraft. The report covered a range of groups, including transsexuals.
The Government has admitted that the cost of implementing the legislation will be about £100 million over the next 12 months. But critics say the figure is likely to rise far higher as lawyers and consultants seek to exploit the new law, which came into force only three months ago.
The cost to the public sector alone will be £30 million this year.
Conservative MP Dominic Raab said: ‘The Coalition should scale back the Equality Act. The last thing hard-pressed public bodies need is this blizzard of extra bureaucracy – wasting their time and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. It’s not just political correctness. It’s also bitterly divisive to carve up our society into artificial social categories.’
An investigation by The Mail on Sunday has uncovered a string of extraordinary initiatives by Government departments and other public bodies surrounding the Equality Act.
* Officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport carrying out a so-called ‘equality impact assessment’ to ensure minority groups are able to take a full part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations next summer.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change issuing a report last month assessing whether a range of groups, including people in civil partnerships, had been unfairly treated when it suspended its £300 million scheme to help people insulate their homes.
Government officials undertaking a study into India’s traditional caste system and its implications for discrimination in the UK.
* The promotion of the first leadership course specifically for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual National Health Service managers.
* The Department for Work and Pensions publishing a report into whether proposed changes to its scheme to help disabled people find jobs would have implications on a range of issues from religion to gender reassignment.
* Kent Police issuing fresh equality guidance earlier this month, to comply with the Act, saying that transsexual staff are protected as soon as they start to dress, behave or live ‘in the gender they identify with’.
The Equality Act was championed by Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, who fought for the legislation to be introduced just before Labour left government last year.
Although it faced criticism over the extra burdens it would place on business and the public sector, it has been kept by the Coalition and backed by Home Secretary Theresa May.
In Opposition, Mrs May, who is also Minister for Women and Equality, said many of the legislation’s clauses would be too bureaucratic and expensive.
The Equality Act was championed by Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman when in government
She scrapped some requirements but introduced much of the Act, including a much-derided provision creating the concept of ‘third-party harassment’. Under this, workers can sue over banter they find offensive, even if it is aimed at someone else. Critics say it signals the end of the office joke.
There are also fears that employers will ask staff intrusive questions about sexuality or beliefs in an effort to prove they are not discriminating.
Public bodies are already required to promote equality on grounds of gender, race and disability and the new Act extends the protection to ‘age, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, and religion or belief’.
From April, 27,000 state bodies with more than 150 staff will have to publish annual updates on the diversity of their workforce.
Many Whitehall departments have equality schemes in place, such as the Home Office’s Here Come The Girls to raise the visibility of lesbian and bisexual women among its staff.
Another Home Office initiative, Blow The Whistle On Gay Hate, encourages victims of homophobia
to go to the police.
The Department of Health last year spent £100,000 on an Equality and Diversity Council comprising officials, union representatives and experts.
And a number of Government departments have paid £2,000 to sign up to a Diversity Champions scheme run by the gay rights organisation Stonewall.
Conservative MP Philip Davies said: ‘This is the kind of politically corrupt drivel that we had come to expect from Harriet Harman and the previous Government, but it is the type of thing that makes the public’s blood boil and it is a complete waste of everyone’s time and money. These Government assessments are ludicrous and pointless.
‘I hope this Government will show some common sense and scrap much of this legislation. In many respects, Theresa May is as bad as Harriet Harman.’
Some of the Government assessments inspired by the Equality Act were begun under Labour, but a number have been carried out since the Coalition came to power.
The Department for Transport’s consultation on whether people face discrimination when they are travelling on ships or hovercraft was published last month.
Ministers admitted the problem was not significant, with only 44 complaints in two years, but said they needed to clarify the law.
The Department for Energy’s assessment of its Warm Front scheme – which pays up to £3,500 to low-income families who need help with insulation and heating – was carried out late last year under Energy Secretary Chris Huhne.
Work on the Defra assessment of its ‘marine policy’ was begun under the previous Government. Officials said the report on coastal fish stocks made up a ‘small part’ of a larger programme of work by an outside contractor that cost a total of £111,477.
Meanwhile, the Culture Department’s investigation into the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is yet to be finished.
The workings of the new Act will be monitored by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has already issued extensive guidance. The watchdog has warned Whitehall departments that they must consider whether those protected under the Act suffer when they implement forthcoming spending cuts.
And it has suggested that public bodies carry out equality impact assessments, which are detailed, formal audits, before making cuts.
The Treasury is already being pursued in the High Court by the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for women’s equality, over accusations that it failed to carry out a gender equality impact assessment before last June’s Emergency Budget.
Other controversial provisions in the Act allow employers to reject male job applicants in favour of women who are no better qualified, and ban questions about health at interviews.
Last night, Government departments claimed that work carried out internally on the reports had not cost any extra money, though they recognised the projects had taken time to complete.
The Government Equalities Office said: ‘The Equality Act 2010 replaces nine major pieces of legislation, making it simpler and cheaper for people to comply with the law.
‘From 2012 we expect the Act to save the economy as much as £87 million a year and we’re working with organisations in the private and public sector to make sure the law is implemented in a way that minimises disruption for them.’
It said it was up to individual departments and public bodies to decide how best to show they were not discriminating.
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Above post is my opinion unless it's a quote.