The government’s cuts to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) budget are severe cuts will make it more difficult for the EHRC to carry out its vital work.
It is extremely important that there is a strong, independent organisation to enforce equality and human rights legislation. The last Labour government established the EHRC in 2007 to protect people against discriminatory treatment and to hold organisations, such as businesses and government, to account for what they do. Before I was an MP, I worked in one of the predecessor organisations, the Commission for Racial Equality, and know the important work that is done.
I am strongly committed to challenging prejudice and discrimination in society and at the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto which included commitments to require large companies to publish their gender pay gap, strengthen the law against maternity discrimination, establish a comprehensive race equality strategy and champion LGBT rights, and also to enforce the Equality Act and protect the Human Rights Act.
The EHRC had an initial budget of £70 million in 2007/08. However, in June 2010, under the Coalition Government, the EHRC’s budget was reduced from £62 million to £55 million in-year. The current government has confirmed that as a result of the 2015 spending review, the EHRC has been allocated a budget of £21.435m for 2016-17. This means the EHRC has had its budget cut by 69 per cent since 2010. Although the government has not yet confirmed budgets for subsequent years, reports suggest that further cuts could see the EHRC budget reduced to £17.7 million, which would mean the EHRC budget would be just 28.5 per cent of its 2010 level.
The government believes that the EHRC has and will continue to receive sufficient funds to enable it to fulfil its statutory functions, but I am very concerned about the impact of the government’s cuts.
Frontline services such as the EHRC’s helpline, grants function, mediation, regional outreach work with communities and casework are all at risk. The expertise of experienced staff may be discarded and crucial services may be lost. It is very important that the EHRC has the resources it needs to carry out its vital work in enforcing equality legislation and promoting and encouraging compliance with the Human Rights Act.
The government must listen to the concerns that have been raised about the impact of the government’s cuts to the EHRC budget. I will continue to press the government to ensure that progress on equality and human rights is properly cemented and protected.