What lies behind David Cameron’s latest bonfire of the regulations? One of the main, if largely unspoken, aims is to allow the government to introduce unfair spending cuts – and to ensure that they can’t be challenged. Under equality law, the government is currently required to assess “the likely or actual effects of policies or services on people in respect of disability, gender and racial equality”. But in his speech to the CBI’s annual conference, Cameron announced that equality impact assessments, established after the Macpherson report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, would be scrapped on the grounds that since there are “smart people in Whitehall who consider equalities issues while they’re making the policy”, we don’t need “all this extra tick-box stuff.” Thus, ministers will no longer have to prove that they have taken into account the effect of policies on the disabled, women, and ethnic minorities – you’ll just have to take their word for it.
In some respects, Cameron’s announcement is merely a formalisation of existing practice. Since coming to power, the government has regularly flouted equality law and refused to carry out impact assessments. In August 2010, the Fawcett Society brought a legal challenge against George Osborne’s emergency Budget after the government failed to assess whether its measures would increase inequality between women and men. Of the £8bn of cuts announced in the Budget, £5.8bn fell on women.
Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission criticised the government for not considering the impact the benefits cap would have on women, the impact cuts to bus fare subsidies would have on disabled people, and the impact the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance would have on ethnic minorities (almost half of children from ethnic minorities live in low-income households).
At present, any groups disproportionately effected by government cuts, are able to seek a judicial review (as the Fawcett Society did). But Cameron intends to make it ever harder for them to do so. In his speech today, the PM announced that he would reduce the time limit for people to bring cases, charge more for reviews, and halve the number of possible appeals from four to two.
So, not only has Cameron increased the scope for discriminatory cuts, he has acted pre-emptively to ensure that there’s even less we can do about it. As ever, one wonders, where are the Lib Dems?