Article on the cuts to the EHRC and how they impact on black communities as publishes by The Voice Newspaper
Why it’s important to defend equality
Campaigner Zita Holbourne argues that race relations are in peril because of Government
CAMPAIGN: Zita Holbourne (right) during a recent BARAC meeting
Yet, severe cuts to staffing and funding of the EHRC mean that it is failing in its remit.
On February 23, Public and Commercial Services Union members at the EHRC staged a half-day strike outside the main offices in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow in defence of jobs and services.
The 72 percent jobs cut and a 63 percent budget cut will mean that over 200 experienced regional, casework and advice staff will face the scrapheap. This means there will be no helpline giving advice to those on the receiving end of discrimination, and the legal advice and representation provided to people facing severe discrimination will cease to exist.
In addition, the £14 million EHRC grants programme has ended. This used to give funding to organisations that provide advice and legal representation to victims of racism and other forms of discrimination, and as result of lack of funding many of these organisations can no longer function, leaving the poorest with nowhere to turn in order to challenge racism.
My organisation, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) is supporting the ‘Save the EHRC’ campaign because we have grave concerns that the cuts will not only mean that the poorest and most vulnerable are unable to get advice and support when they are discriminated against, we believe the weakened under-resourced position of the Commission will send a clear signal to employers and service providers that they are free to discriminate, which will lead to an increase in discrimination.
This is unacceptable at a time when Government cuts are creating a divide between rich and poor, are impacting on black communities disproportionately, and widening the pay gap between black and white workers.
When the Commission for Racial Equality was disbanded to create the new single Equality and Human Rights Commission headed by Trevor Phillips I, like many others, was concerned that we would see a watering down of work focused on eliminating race discrimination, and it is evident that this is exactly the case.
I contacted the EHRC at the beginning of February and asked them what resources are currently in place to carry out enforcement work on the public sector equality duties, if they anticipated a reduction in this resource over the next six months, and how this would impact on their ability to carry out enforcement work.
I also asked what priority they would give to addressing non-compliance of public sector organisations in relation to the equality impact of cuts to jobs, pensions and pay, what work they were doing on race equality, and when the anticipated Code of Practice to accompany the Public Sector Duty would be produced.
Despite pressing them to respond to my queries, three weeks later I have yet to receive a response. In the absence of any response the only conclusion I can draw is that they had nothing positive to say on any of the areas I asked about, or believe that it’s acceptable to simply dismiss my concerns.
I believe we all have an interest in supporting the campaign to defend the EHRC, because the attempts to destroy it impacts on us all and the state of race relations in the UK.
There have been a series of racist incidents recently that the EHRC could be intervening in but are not, because of a political agenda driven by the Government that does not see eliminating injustice and discrimination as a priority.
You can support the campaign by signing the petition below and by contacting the EHRC yourself setting out your concerns.
The petition is at http://www.epetitions.direct.gov/. uk/petitions/29879
To find out more about the BARAC campaign email email@example.com or visit http://www.blackactivistsrisingagainstcuts.blogspot.com/. You can also join us on Facebook, ‘black activists rising against cuts.
This is an opinion piece. Zita Holbourne is co-founder and national co-chair of BARAC UK.
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