Last November in a speech to the CBI, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he was ‘calling time on equality impact assessment’ saying ‘We have smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy. We don’t need all this extra tick-box stuff.” Out of these comments came the Public Sector Equality Duty Review.
This week the Court of Appeal found against the Department for Work and Pensions, which leads in government on disability policy, with respect to the way it made its decision to close the Independent Living Fund. You can read the full judgement here, but of particular relevance are Paras 60-67. In summary, government was unable to demonstrate that sufficient regard had been paid to the serious equality implications of closing down the Independent Living Fund.
One could conclude that, contrary to Mr Cameron’s assertion, this case showed how ‘smart people in Whitehall’ can’t be relied upon to think about equalities issues while they’re making the policy. But I expect the reality is that both officials and the Minister were fully aware of the implications of the decision they planned to implement. The problem was not thinking about it, it was being required to demonstrate having done so for this risked laying the government open to the accusation of having deliberately taken such a grave decision in the full knowledge of what it would mean.
This perhaps explains Mr Cameron’s dislike for equality impact assessment. It also no doubt explains why – despite finding no evidence to sustain his claim – the Chair of the deeply flawed Public Sector Equality Duty review Ron Hayward unilaterally it seems (and with a worrying grammatical mistake) declared in the foreword to the report: ’equality is too important to be tied up in red tape. Let’s cut it out.’