UK Politics

Equality watchdog should be abolished, think tank says

Trevor Phillips
Image caption Civitas said EHRC chairman Trevor Phillips had an "impractical" view of equality

The UK's human rights watchdog contributes "very little to meaningful equality" and should be scrapped, a think tank has said.

Civitas said the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) wrongly blamed "Britain's unfairness" for statistical differences between social groups.

It also said there were "serious concerns" about its value for money.

The EHRC said its job was to "start a debate" about how to improve the lives of people with "unfair disadvantages".

In a report for the right-leaning think tank, academic Jon Gower Davis said EHRC chairman Trevor Phillips had an "impractical" view of equality, based on the belief that "life outcomes [could] be entirely divorced from health limitations, cultural practices and lifestyles".

As an example, Mr Gower Davis said the EHRC "draws attention to the comparatively small differences in life expectancy between all British-born women (80.5) and women of Pakistani origin (77.3), but fails to draw attention to the much larger difference in outcomes between British women of Pakistani origin and women living in Pakistan (67.5)".

He said the EHRC ignored cultural differences that could account for these variations and instead held the UK responsible.

He said the commission's "narrow approach to social policy" was "neither a reasonable approach with which to judge British society, nor a useful way of developing policies to improve outcomes for minority communities".

'Reallocate resources'

Civitas also criticised the pay and expenses of the commission's most senior staff, and questioned its value for money.

Launching the report, a spokesman said: "Ultimately, abolishing the EHRC itself would not just be a cost-saving exercise.

"It may well present an opportunity to channel resources into addressing the most pertinent issues holding back equality and fairness."

In response, Mark Hammond, chief executive of the EHRC, said Mr Phillips "did not hold the views attributed to him by Civitas".

"There are many reasons why people experience different levels of prosperity, health and happiness, but in some cases this can be because of discrimination and unfairness," he said.

"No-one blames Britain for that, but it's our job to start a debate on issues where we could see better outcomes for people suffering unfair disadvantages."

The commission added that it had already reduced its full-time staff from 488 in May last year to 426 by last month, and aimed to have "around 200 staff in the future".

In June, the National Audit Office refused to sign off in full the EHRC's 2009/10 annual accounts.

It criticised the EHRC for its "irregular expenditure in a number of areas" - although it did acknowledge that improvements had been made on previous years.

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