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 former 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 did have a public helpline, but this has now closed. Generally, the EHRC is being drastically cut back by the Coalition government. See below Reform: 2011-2013).
The Commission covers England, Scotland and Wales. The equivalent body in Northern Ireland is the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
In creating the EHRC, some safeguards on disability were built into the legislation. One is that at least one member of the EHRC board must be a person who has, or has had, a disability (EqA 2006 Sch 1 para 2(3)(a)). The Disability Commissioner is Chris Holmes MBE.
Another safeguard is that there must be a Disability Committee within EHRC, with disabled people making up at least half its members (Sch 1 Part 5). It is chaired by the Disability Commissioner. Link: ‘Disability Committee’ (link to EHRC).
In February 2014 is was announced that the Disability Committee will continue till the end of March 2017 but will then be dissolved: see Future of the Disability Committee Decided (link to EHRC) 26/2/14. This comments that 2014-15 is of particular importance as the UK will be examined in its compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The regulation dissolving the Committee from 2017 is SI 2014/406.
This decision follows an independent review published in June 2013, which includes interesting discussion of the committee’s work. The review recommended that it continue as a statutory committee until at least 2017. See Independent review of the Disability Committee (link to EHRC).
- Disability down-graded in equality stakes (link to disabilitynow.org.uk), by Peter White, 26th July 2013.
- Equality watchdog to scrap vital disability committee (link to disabledgo.com/blog), 22/07/13.
EHRC can sometimes help individuals take legal action under the Equality Act (s.28 Equality Act 2006 (link to legislation.gov.uk)). However, this will only be exceptionally when it considers a case to be strategic in nature: see Strategic human rights and equality litigation (link to EHRC).
In May 2012 the Government issued its reponse to a 2011 consultation on reform of the EHRC: Government response to EHRC consultation (link to homeoffice.gov.uk).
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 have been stopped include:
- the EHRC helpline, which was being replaced from October 2012 by a new Equality Advisory and Support Service run by a partnership of Sitel and Disability Rights UK;
- the grants programme for organisations providing equality advice; and
- the conciliation service funded by EHCR, which came to an end in March 2012.
Central government funding for legal advice on discrimination cases is to be solely through legal aid.
The goverment has sought to reduce the EHRC’s powers, particularly by repealing the EHRC’s general duty in s.3 Equality Act 2006. For example, the EHRC general duty requires it 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, and the Government eventually agreed to retain the general duty: Government U-turn on EHRC’s General Duty – Neil Crowther (link to ukhumanrightsblog.com). The EHRC’s general duty under s.3 should not be confused with the general duty under the Public sector equality duty which applies to all public bodies.
There have been very major cuts to the EHRC workforce (see also news links below).
When the Commission opened in 2007 it had a budget of £70 million and 525 staff. By March 2013 the Commission’s budget was reduced to a maximum of £26 million with around 200 staff.
Independent Review of the Equality and Human Rights Commission?s Statutory Disability Committee, June 2013. See Independent review of the Disability Committee (link to EHRC).
- New EHRC chair faces tough task to repair watchdog’s ‘damaged house’ (link to www.proudlockassociates.com), 5/10/12 – reporting comments by Bert Massie, chair of the former Disability Rights Commission
- Equality staff will be ‘”forced out of jobs”, 27/6/12
- Lynne Featherstone to reform Equality and Human Rights Commission (link to libdemvoice.org), 17/5/12
- 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 (link to guardian.co.uk), 15/5/12
- Unite members protest at EHRC cuts to job and services (link to unitetheunion.org), 22/2/12.
Text of Equality Act 2006: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2006/3/contents