The EHRC took over the role of the Disability Rights Commission from 1st October 2007. It also covers the other grounds of discrimination – sex, race etc – making it a ‘single equality commission’. Its website is www.equalityhumanrights.com.
The EHRC took over the roles of the Disability Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission (sex discrimination), and the Commission for Racial Equality. As well as disability, it covers discrimination on grounds of age, gender, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. It also has a brief to promote human rights.
The EHRC had a public helpline which has now closed; this has been replaced by a separately run Equality Advisory and Support Service. Generally, the EHRC was drastically cut back by the Coalition government. See below Reform: 2011-2013.
To mention just some of the areas where the EHRC is active (for more see Our Work (www.equalityhumanrights.com)):
- The EHRC supports some litigation by individuals under the Equality Act, where they consider it to be strategic litigation (below).
- The EHRC seems to be taking more – and/or better publicised – enforcement action (equalityhumanrights.com) than it used to, as recommended by the Women and Equalities Committee in 2019. For example on disability, in May 2021 it used its powers against a breach of s.60 EqA (pre-employment enquiries): see Investigation finds care agency’s recruitment practices were unlawful (equalityhumanrights.com). There is a link below to EHRC’s litigation and enforcement policy
- The EHRC has a formal role in monitoring the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in the UK.
The EHRC’s litigation and enforcement policy on its website gives guidance on what litigation it may support (and what enforcement action it may decide to take):
- Our litigation and enforcement policy 2019 to 2022 (equalityhumanrights.com) which links to its
- Strategic plan: 2019 to 2022 (equalityhumanrights.com) for more on its core and priority aims.
The EHRC’s Disability Advisory Committee (equalityhumanrights.com) has now been abolished. Its last meeting was in March 2022: Statement on our Disability Advisory Committee (equalityhumanrights.com).
When the EHRC was created under the Equality Act 2006, one safeguard on disability was that the legislation required the EHRC to have a Disability Committee, with disabled people making up at least half its members (Sch 1 Part 5). However this statutory committee was dissolved in March 2017, by regulation SI 2014/406. The committee’s old web page as at February 2017 is Disability Committee (webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk).
The EHRC decided to replace the statutory committee with a new “Disability Advisory Committee” (above), providing advice and guidance to inform its work protecting and promoting rights and equality for disabled people. However this too was abolished from March 2022.
Another safeguard in the Equality Act 2006, which remains, is that at least one member of the EHRC board must be someone who has, or has had, a disability (EqA 2006 Sch 1 para 2(3)(a)).
Our vision is that the EHRC should become a valued and respected national institution focusing on its core roles as:
– a national expert on equality and human rights issues – as an ‘A’-rated National Human Rights Institution monitoring the effectiveness of equality and human rights law, undertaking research, conducting inquiries, making recommendations, and monitoring progress in reducing persistent inequalities; and
– a strategic enforcer of the law and guardian of legal rights – promoting awareness and understanding of rights, supporting victims of discrimination, and using its strategic enforcement powers to ensure the law is working as intended.
“Non-core activities” of the EHRC which were stopped included:
- the EHRC helpline, which was replaced from October 2012 by a separate Equality Advisory and Support Service run by other bodies, commissioned by the government;
- its strategic grants programme for organisations providing equality advice; and
- the Disability Conciliation Service for seeking to resolve cases on provision of services or higher and further education, if the parties agreed. It came to an end in March 2012.
The government sought to reduce the EHRC’s powers, particularly by repealing the EHRC’s general duty in s.3 Equality Act 2006. For example this general duty requires the EHRC to exercise its functions “with a view to encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which (a) people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination…”. However, the repeal proved highly controversial. The government eventually agreed to retain the s.3 general duty: Government U-turn on EHRC’s General Duty – Neil Crowther (ukhumanrightsblog.com). The EHRC’s general duty under s.3 EqA 2006 should not be confused with the general duty under the Public sector equality duty which applies to all public bodies.
There were very major cuts to the EHRC’s budget and workforce (see also news links below).
Reform 2011-2013: News links:
- New EHRC chair faces tough task to repair watchdog’s ‘damaged house’ (www.proudlockassociates.com), 5/10/12 – reporting comments by Bert Massie, chair of the former Disability Rights Commission
- Lynne Featherstone to reform Equality and Human Rights Commission (libdemvoice.org), 17/5/12, defending reform (the Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone was a Lib Dem)
- Equality and Human Rights Commission has workforce halved: Government also removes equality watchdog’s obligation to consider policy impact on poor and downgrades role of chair (guardian.co.uk), 15/5/12.
The legislation establishing the EHRC was the Equality Act 2006 (legislation.gov.uk).