November 20, 2012

IconWho needs equality anyway?

Oi, Sappho! Stop wasting valuable time and money already!

The British Government don’t seem particularly keen on equality. And who can blame them? It’s an outdated concept that carries dangerous connotations of socialist conspiracy and time-wasting bureaucracy.

You just need to glance at the news to see the latest salvo in the long, hard war on equality. There are plans afoot to scrap equality impact assessments, for which public bodies are required to consider the affect that new policy will have on minority groups such as LGBT people. David Cameron insists that such measures amount to little more than “bureaucratic nonsense”.

How about judicial reviews? This process offers ordinary people the chance to challenge the authorities over issues such as homophobia within the asylum system discriminatory fertility services and ill-justified arrests. It’s an expensive and difficult system to navigate. But not expensive and difficult enough, says our Prime Minister:

We urgently need to get a grip on this. So here’s what we’re going to do: reduce the time limit when people can bring cases, charge more for reviews so people think twice about time-wasting, and instead of giving hopeless cases up to four bites of the cherry to appeal a decision, we will halve that to two.

Cameron argues that we’re in the midst of “the economic equivalent of war”, and that such measures are necessary to save “British business” (his speech was, of course, addressed to the Confederation of British Industry). But it’s difficult to see how this supposed war to save the economy is not also a war on “equality”.

For instance, the Government has had the Equality Act in its sights for a long time now. Its “Red Tape Challenge” website is still suggesting that the Equality Duty be scrapped. This would mean that public bodies such as councils, colleges and the police no longer have a duty to think about how different groups of people might be affected by their decisions and actions.

Similarly, the NHS Equality and Diversity Council was recently replaced by a shiny new Personal, Fair and Diverse Council. If you’re wondering what that actually means then the official explanation is delightfully opaque:

The name change has been agreed in response to the Council’s new responsibilities for health inequalities and human rights as part of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and supports its wider role to act on behalf of the whole health and social care system.

You have to wonder just what changes to the NHS would warrant the unceremonious exit of “equality”. It does, however, make perfect sense in the context of the Government’s unrelenting war on a dangerous idea.

Of course, it could be that this particular action of NHS rebranding is actually entirely without meaning, with the council in question still committed to ensuring equality for all. But wouldn’t that mean that this change is little more than “bureaucratic nonsense”? Better get Dave on the case.

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Ruth Pearce


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