Anti-discrimination powers underused in UK, says report

Britain’s three equality Commissions are failing to use their enforcement powers to control racial, disability and sexual discrimination, according to a report published this week by the Public Interest Research Unit (PIRU). The Disability Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission are publishing research and guidance – which PIRU described as invaluable – but not taking enforcement action. In a study period spanning more than seven years, the civil rights charity found the three Commissions made no use at all of five enforcement powers and little use of another five. Between them, only one ‘non-discrimination notice’ was served, by the Commission for Racial Equality on the London Borough of Hackney in 2000.

The report claims that neglect by the Commissions combined with difficulties for individuals in taking legal action themselves helped ensure that the majority of discriminators got away with committing unlawful acts. The Commissions will be replaced by a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights which is due to open in 2007. Its powers are contained in the Equality Act 2006. But PIRU’s 180-page report argues that the legislation will weaken or remove some powers available to the current bodies and individuals will have weaker rights to legal assistance in discrimination cases. The report’s author, Rupert Harwood, said, “The Commissions neglecting their enforcement powers has meant abandoning some of the most vulnerable and abused people in Britain.”

“The CEHR needs to build on the invaluable work the Commissions have done and begin the essential work the Commissions should have done.” Asked about the Disability Rights Commission’s efforts on web accessibility, Harwood acknowledged its 2004 formal investigation and report which confirmed a poor standard on UK sites. But he pointed out that it was not a named-person investigation. “They need to go on and look at what organisations are doing,” he said. “They need to take action and set an example. They should look at big organisations that should know better.”

The report will be available soon at PIRU’s website.

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