New Chair nominated for Equality and Human Rights Commission
Baroness Onora O’Neill has been chosen by the Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, to be the next Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Her appointment will need to be reviewed by a parliamentary committee before it is confirmed. The selection comes in the wake of Trevor Phillips leaving the Commission after a controversial two terms as Chair.
Baroness O’Neill is a philosopher and a crossbench member of the House of Lords, who has held several academic positions and sat on the boards of various organisations to do with public science and bioethics. She has written extensively about choice and autonomy, so it will be interesting to hear her thoughts about disability equality. The incoming Chair’s background is one of privilege – she was privately educated and studied at Oxford and Harvard – and she is used to dealing with abstract academic issues rather than the nuts and bolts of disability politics on the ground. Time will tell whether she can connect with the needs of disabled people at grass roots level. Encouragingly, giving evidence to the Commission on Assisted Dying last year, she recognised the potential pressures on people with impairments and serious illnesses, saying that the idea of effective legal safeguards for assisted dying involved “misleading and unrealisable fantasies about individual autonomy”. She said that assisted suicide is “not safely legislatable”. We will have to wait for her appearance before the Joint Committee on Human Rights to find out more about where she stands on the issues that matter to disabled people.
It has been rumoured that Baroness O’Neill will be presiding over a sinking ship. Although the Commission escaped the government’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’, its budget has been slashed, its helpline has been given to a private provider, and its grants programme has been cut. Is the Commission being hollowed out ready to be shut down altogether – or will it be allowed to find a way to struggle on with a new operating model? Under this government, it’s anybody’s guess.
Please find below an open letter from staff working at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) to Baroness Margaret Prosser who chairs the Commission’s Resources committee. This committee approved proposals in June this year that would see the Commission reduce its staff headcount to 150. These proposals are now the subject of a 90 day statutory consultation with the trade unions representing staff at the Commission.
The Resources committee arrived at this new headcount by assuming that the Government will reduce the Commission’s budget to £18 million by the financial year 2014/15. However, the committee has recommended that these staff cuts should be implemented by the end of 2012. This assumed budget of £18 million represents an additional 30% cut to the budget already announced in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review when the Government said that the budget would be reduced from its original budget of £70 million to £26 million by 2014/15. The Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone MP, confirmed the £26 million budget as recently as March this year in answer to a parliamentary question http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2012-03-27a.100388.h&s=speaker%3A11641#g100388.r0
Over 200 skilled and experienced staff have already left the Commission in the past year and if these proposals are implemented a further 100 staff will leave. More staff will be lost when the Commission’s helpline is outsourced to Sitel in the autumn because Sitel has only one site based in Stratford-upon-Avon. Staff do not believe that the Commission will be subjected to yet more draconian budget cuts given that it has already had its budget reduced by 62%, a hugely disproportionate cut compared to those imposed on other public bodies. Indeed, we would expect stakeholders, parliamentarians and the UN International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs to vigorously oppose any Government plans to make further cuts to the Commission’s budget.
Staff believe that the Resources committee should withdraw these proposals and commence a meaningful consultation based on the actual budget of £26 million. Following the statutory consultation period the proposals must be approved by the full Board of the Commission in early October before they can be implemented. So the time to take action is now.
What you can do:
Write to Baroness Prosser, EHRC, 3 More London, Riverside Tooley Street, London SE1 2RG
Write to members of the Commission’s Board at 3 More London: Stephen Alambritis, Kaliani Lyle, Sarah Anderson, Meral Hussein Ece, Simon Woolley, Kay Carberry, Ann Beynon, Trevor Phillips, Professor Geraldine Van Beuren, Baroness Sally Greengross, Dr Jean Irvine, Angela Mason and Michael Smith
Ask your MP to lobby the Chairs of the following Parliamentary Select Committees requesting an inquiry into the Commission’s restructuring plans: Home Affairs, Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Public Accounts Committee
Join our Facebook Group – Save the Equality and Human Rights Commission
Follow us on twitter #savetheehrc