The blog of Monty Moncrieff
London Friend Chief Executive
5th December 2012: Equality - are we really all in this together?
Listening to the Prime Minister's speech to the CBI the other week you'd be forgiven for thinking it's the end of the line for equalities work. Mr Cameron "called time" on the Equalities Impact Assessment, declaring it to often be a piece of excessive bureaucracy. Those of us working with diverse communities felt a collective despair: one of the key components of our toolbox was being severely blunted.
On closer examination the PM chose his words very carefully: EIAs were history, so long as equalities had been "properly thought through".
The statement on EIAs was in fact something of a misnomer: a formal assessment has never been a legal requirement, although the Equality Act requires public bodies to evidence consideration of the impact of their policies and practices on groups who share 'protected characteristics'. The formal term is to pay 'due regard'. Many organisations used the EIA as the way in which they documented this evidence. There's never really been an EIA requirement to "cal time" on. Surely the PM's intention was not to mislead?
Mr Cameron's choice of audience was also intriguing: duties around equality fall mainly n the Public Sector and yet here he was speaking to a room of private sector business leaders promising to slash red tape that largely doesn't affect them. It's hardly surprising that the effect of it all has been to confuse and obfuscate the issue.
To be fair, the PM did acknowledge the need for proper consideration of equalities. Whilst the Government is gearing up to review the Public Sector Equality Duty it has not, as yet, abolished it. What's concerning, however, is how his statement may impact on those of us who need to highlight health inequalities within the communities we serve to those responsible for planning and delivering them.
LGB & T equality is still poorly acknowledged
The inclusion of Duties around sexual orientation and gender reassignment were enormous advances for LGBT & T people, putting us on an equal footing with long-standing Duties on race, sex and disability. Although the PM claims Whitehall is full of "smart people" who do the thinking on equalities the Government's own analysis of LGB & T research consistently finds gaps in available evidence: not even the smartest thinkers can fully include our concerns from that starting point. The health issues for our communities remain poorly research and poorly understood, and a requirement to include us in public thinking offers an opportunity for us to hold services to account where these gaps continue. These were hard-fought gains that appear to be slipping away before we've even reaped our first crop of rewards. What now when we speak to our local health system leaders and they tell us "well we don't have to do that equality assessment anymore"? We're back to challenging basic perception.
Equality seems to be under threat in many areas as the true impact of the financial squeeze takes its toll. On Monday I attended a conference organised by NHS North West, a trailblazing Strategic Health Authority about to be shut down in the NHS restructure. Their innovative projects, including a manual on sexual orientation monitoring, the much-praised Pride In Practice toolkit developed to raise awareness by GPs, and a trans research project have been commissioned from London Friend's partner agencies the LGF and TREC with forethought and strategic vision. The questions throughout the day were "What happens next to these resources?" and, pertinently, "Who leads this work now?". We didn't find all of the answers.
The Prime Minister is right in some ways: equality shouldn't be a burden and organisations like NHS North West have shown it works best when it isn't. Their approach has been to firstly engage with communities, via innovative contracting to ensure small community groups are properly resourced and remunerated for their time and expertise, and to make sure equalities are an integral, not additional, part of effective planning and delivery of services. Evidence of their approach, and how it could easily be replicated across the country, can be found here. Most of all they have shown impressive leadership in this area. To those of us who care about equality it was devastating to learn that much of this leadership will not survive into the new NHS.
Despite the obfuscation by the Government, we still have an Equality Act and our health and other public services are still bound to fulfil its Duties. As diversity practitioners we need to collectively shout about this and remind the public sector of their obligations to LGB & T populations and offer our experience and skills to improve the health of our communities. But we also need them to show commitment and leadership in return.