Tory Home Secretary Theresa May launched an all-out assault on equality protections today just hours after the coalition was implicated in lawbreaking over the impact on women, disabled and ethnic minorities of its cuts.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) issued a damning indictment of the coalition's "austerity" frenzy on Monday, noting that it had not bothered to consider the impact of austerity on women, ethnic minorities or the disabled.
And within hours hard-line May was issuing her threat to "review" public-sector equality duty.
Ms May also vowed to curb the power of employment tribunals to hold employers to account, remove public bodies' legal obligation to consider the impact of their decisions on social class and to repeal powers from the EHRC.
Other measures will include repealing third party harassment laws, which will mean employers are no longer liable for the harassment of an employee by a third party.
Ms May claimed the assault was aimed at tackling "red tape" within the Equality Act.
"Bureaucracy and prescription are not routes to equality," she declared. "Over-burdening businesses benefits no-one and real change doesn't come from telling people what to do."
Lib-Dem Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone also leapt onto the anti-equality bandwagon, claiming: "Since its creation the EHRC has struggled to deliver across its remit and has not demonstrated good value for money."
But the ministers' proposals were met with outrage and derision from women's groups and trade unions.
Fawcett Society chief executive Ceri Goddard said: "Just today the EHRC reported that if the Treasury had used the public-sector equality duty more fully when drawing up the comprehensive spending review, we would have seen improved outcomes for particular groups - including young people and women.
"We are disappointed to learn that the government proposes to review the effectiveness of the public-sector equality duty so soon - it came into force little more than a year ago. Reviewing it at this stage is unlikely to lead to meaningful conclusions."
The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) condemned attempts to amend the Equality Act and accused the government of disregarding its own consultation and ignoring opposition to its plans to cut funding and powers from the EHRC.
Following freedom of information requests, parliamentary questions and a letter to the Home Secretary from TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, ministers have finally published the results of a consultation on the Equality Act showing overwhelming opposition to any changes - but the government insists it will press ahead anyway using "the earliest suitable legislative vehicle."
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Rather than helping to make our society more equal, these cuts risk setting us back decades and abandoning people who need help.
"Investing in equality is not red tape - it's absolutely necessary in recognition of the fact that after years of fighting, sections of our communities still face discrimination and hatred."
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