Doreen Lawrence is to launch a new postcard campaign to save the Equality and Human Rights Commission. She is demanding the withdrawal of planned budget cuts which would disproportionately hit black and Asian staff and the disabled.
The mother of murdered teen Stephen Lawrence will unveil the postcard at the Trades Union Congress annual conference which starts in Brighton tomorrow (Sunday 9th September).
The campaign calls on the new chairperson of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Baroness Margaret Prosser – a former trades union activist – to rethink proposals to axe frontline staff that advise victims of discrimination, and to consult trades unions and stakeholders.
6,000 postcards will be distributed to union activists from around Britain. The initiative hopes to put pressure on the board members (commissioners) to reverse budget cuts at their meeting on 10th October.
You can view the postcard here.
The campaign is sponsored by the public service unions PCS and Unite. PCS is also encouraging its’ members to lobby their local MPs.
Critics believe that the extent of the cuts would leave the watchdog unable to fulfil its’ core functions.
Last month I wrote in The Guardian about the effect savage cuts to the Commission would have on tackling inequality. The body is responsible for upholding equalities laws covering race, gender, disabilities, age and sexual orientation.
There is also evidence that the Commission will be left with an all-white management team with the axe falling disproportionately on BAME staff. I am quoted in this article in the Independent talking about it.
In addition to slashing the budget by over half, the Government want to strip the organisation of its’ statutory powers to hold public authorities to account.
Yesterday Trevor Phillips officially stepped down after five turbulent years as EHRC chair. He leaves the equalities watchdog in disarray, staff in uproar over the cuts, and an increasing number of campaigners fearful that the body will become nothing more than a toothless think-tank.
The Commission has already started hiring many more highly-paid consultants in preference to staff with detailed knowledge of different equalities strands.
Following the reshuffle which promoted Maria Miller to culture secretary, and handed her the equalities brief, there are rumours that responsibility for the EHRC will transfer from the Home Office to the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) along with the Government’s central equalities office. However this risks accusations that the Government is treating equalities as if it were a cultural pursuit.
Equalities groups and the Labour opposition have voiced concerns over Miller’s previous voting record on equalities, but closer inspection shows that some of the proposed legislation she voted against was also opposed by grassroots activists at the time. Miller will be working closely with Helen Grant, a newly-appointed junior minister at the department of justice.
It is not yet clear whether Grant will get the race equality brief, previously held by Andrew Stunnel before his sacking, or whether it will go to another minister like Don Foster at the communities and local government department. Many race equality activists would be disappointed if Grant did not lead this area and say it would be difficult to justify giving the responsibility for race to any other minister.
By Lester Holloway @suttongoingon