Fawcett Society challenges Government's emergency budget under discrimination law

Some people may have seen in the news last week that the Fawcett Society has launched a legal challenge to the Government’s recent emergency budget.

The basis of their challenge is that “Under equality laws, we believe the government should have assessed whether its budget proposals would increase or reduce inequality between women and men.” Their contention is that the reductions will have a disproportionate effect on women’s income.

While many organisations and individuals will continue to discuss and campaign on the merits and fairness of the budget and subsequent decisions by all levels of government, this challenge suggests that the Government's decision-making process was flawed. A public body of course has discretion when making a decision (and in cases such as budgets a very wide discretion) to implement their policies, but that discretion and the decision must be taken lawfully.

Public bodies must have ‘due regard’ to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity. But it is not enough to avoid actually discriminating. The public body must consider whether its decisions and policies are likely to have an impact on equality of opportunity, and must look for ways to promote equality.

An impact assessment (which the Fawcett Society say was lacking) evaluates the likely impact of a particular decision or policy. If a public body is considering a decision or policy that is likely to have an impact on one or more of the equality duties it must show that, when taking the decision, it has had ‘due regard’ to its positive equalities duties. This may mean that it carries out an impact assessment to judge if groups will be disadvantaged by its decision or policy, and to identify where and how they can promote equality.

As part of the Empowering the Voluntary Sector project we use the Compact and public law to challenge unjust decisions by public bodies. With more budget cuts to come and the knock on ending of funding arrangements, it is crucial that organisations know about the obligations of public bodies so that they can make sure that all their decisions and policies have followed the correct process. All levels of government will be under pressure to act quickly. On behalf of the people that use services and are affected by these decisions we must sure that they also act correctly.

Find out more about the advice and support Compact Advocacy can offer.

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