Thursday, August 26, 2010

Osborne's Budget may have breached equality law.

I have always argued that Osborne's budget was ill thought out, and that the 25% figure which he demands in across the board cuts was one which he pulled from his ass.

But I never foresaw this:

The coalition Government faces the embarrassing prospect of being rebuked by the equalities watchdog over whether its planned spending cuts are "unfair" on groups such as women, the disabled and ethnic minorities.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission may take action against the Treasury for not meeting its obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to consider the impact on specific groups before announcing its plans in the emergency Budget in June.

Commission officials are in negotiations with the Treasury but have not yet been satisfied that it complied with the Act, pioneered by Harriet Harman, the former Equalities Minister.

As far as I am concerned it goes without saying that Osborne never considered the impact his budget would have on minorities. When has Osborne ever seen a minority as anything other than another scrounger asking for special treatment? Indeed, his entire budget was an attack on the poorest members of society.

But now it appears that he may have fallen foul of the Equality Act 2010. The Act requires that the government must conduct an assessment of how it's decisions will affect certain vulnerable groups, such as the disabled and other minorities. It became clear yesterday on the airwaves of Radio 4 that this thought had simply never crossed their minds.

Mark Hoban, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, was ambushed when he answered the IFS criticism on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in what was seen by his ministerial "colleagues" as the worst media car crash since the Coalition Government was formed in May.

Justin Webb, the presenter, asked Mr Hoban whether the Treasury had conducted an assessment of how the Budget would affect specific groups, as required under the Act.

The Treasury minister appeared not to know the answer. Mr Hoban stuck rigidly to his brief, insisting: "We went through a very detailed distributional analysis at the time of the Budget, it was the most extensive piece of work anyone has done."

Mr Webb smelt blood and asked the same question six times. Eventually, Mr Hoban tried a different answer, accusing Mr Webb of "looking at detail rather than actually at recognising the fact we had to take some difficult decisions in the Budget".

Later, the Government fielded Nick Clegg to respond to the IFS criticism. He said the IFS report was a "single snapshot" which did not provide the full picture of the Government's agenda.

Justin Webb: Can I just ask you this quick question: have you conducted an assessment which you are required to do by law by the equalities act of 2010 to find out what affect this budget has on ethnic minorities, disabled, other vulnerable groups?

Mark Hoban (Treasury minister): Look Justin, we went through a very detailed distributional analysis at the time of the Budget, it was the most extensive piece of work anyone has done.

JW: But have you conducted this assessment?

MH: And it looked across a wide range of households in a way that other governments haven't done, and I think the choice that we faced...

JW: So hold on, can I just get straight from you, have you conducted this legal assessment or not?

MH: Justin, we have gone through the most detailed and rigourous assessment of the distributional impact of this Budget than any government...

JW: So you've not, you've not actually done the assessment that you're required to do under the 2010 act?

MH: We've gone through the most rigorous assessment of the impact of this Budget on families...

JW: But not this formal assessment?

MH: We've gone through, Justin, this is the best and most detailed piece of work any government has done on the impact of their Budget on families and households...

JW: Can I just get it clear from you, you've not done the formal assessment some people think you are required to do under the equalities act 2010?

MH: Justin, I think you know you are looking at detail rather than actually at recognising the fact we had to take some difficult decisions in the Budget to tackle the deficit we inherited from Labour, the choice we faced was either to take action now or to do nothing...

So, the quick answer is that they didn't look into "the detail", which doesn't surprise me in the least. Osborne's called for cuts of 25% across the board for God's sake. It's hard to imagine a cruder policy objective than that. When making such arbitrary demands it stands to reason that details have not been considered.

And the price to pay is that some of Osborne's most regressive cuts may very well now find themselves on hold.

Click here for full article.

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