Troubles at the Equality and Human Rights Commission

Thought I’d pitch in with my thoughts on the troubled Equality and Human Rights Commission.

I remember being on the London board of the original Commission for Racial Equality when this new all singing, all dancing Equality Commission was first mooted. All the race bodies and leaders of different groups in the community were against it – including Trevor Phillips. The leaders of the other commissions (women and disability) were all against it – as they all appeared to resent to some degree (and not surprisingly) giving up their leadership positions and becoming commissioners under someone else – particularly when that someone else turned out to be Mr Phillips. There was also genuine concern that the clear fight for a particular cause would be muddied and subsumed by being part of a greater whole. And there was fear and competitiveness as to whether the Chair would give more attention to race (as that was his background) and would that leave women, disability, sexual orientation and so on playing catch up.

Nevertheless – the new Equality and Human Rights Commission came into being, chaired by Trevor Phillips, who hired as the new CEO Nicola Brewer, and is now about 18 months old. Ms Brewer has recently left for a plum job as South Africa High Commissioner.

There was always going to be trouble at mill. Lots of old scores, egos and enemies all thrust into one body would inevitably lead to jealousy, noses out of joint and undoubtedly the real feeling of being ignored when it came to some decisions.

In terms of the tide of resigning commissioners – there are some who are and have been phenomenal campaigners, leaders and experts in their particular field – and there are some that may simply be crumbs fighting.The severe reduction in number of commissioners which is coming, and the fact that they all have to reapply for their jobs, may also play a part in their ‘brave’ decision to go at this point.

What I don’t understand is if it has been so dreadful why none of them really rocked the boat prior to the possibility of losing their jobs? It’s one of the reasons I think that if Trevor Phillips survives this debacle new blood might be a very good thing. Well – there will be blood on the carpet – that’s for sure.

However, there is always a difficult balance to strike when people have championed causes and been instrumental in moving forward the agenda on whichever equality is their drum to beat. The problems arise, I think, in twofold ways. Firstly – if you have banged a drum for years and years – it is very difficult to change the way you beat it or the repertoire that you play. Secondly, Trevor Phillips appears to have trodden on many other egos to make announcements, change direction, challenge the status quo – without consultation or agreement. That too is a difficult balance to strike – leadership versus consultation. Phillips has clearly got it wrong in terms of Commissioners’ feelings and also, perhaps, his style of leadership. On the other hand – there are such major challenges for this country in terms of equalities – taking the agenda boldly where no one has gone before may require such leadership and saying the unsayable.

Phillips has been right on some things like changing multiculturalism – or aspects around it. He said we were sleepwalking into segregation – and that did change the multicultural weather. Councils who for so long had funded so many different communities – funding separateness – have started to fund togetherness instead. Critics turned that into Phillips wanting to attack multiculturalism – but it wasn’t – it was acknowledging that what was once good policy had had its day.

My main anger with the EHRC is that it is compliant with the Labour agenda – not independent enough. Women have been the sacrificial lambs that Phillips has happily led to slaughter in the Equalities Bill . But Harriet Harman lost in cabinet to Mandelson on that – ergo women can just wait for equality. Trevor Phillips is a Labour man and won’t really challenge the Government.

The other main complaint is that the EHRC is just dreadful at answering mail – both in terms of getting an answer – and the content when it finally comes. However, I would lay this at the door of the ex-Chief Executive. It was Nicola Brewer’s job as Chief Officer to run the Commission – and she singular failed in terms of efficiency on this score alone.

It’s not just growing pains that have caused the hoo ha at the EHRC. There are real problems that need sorting – and fast. With Brewer gone – and about six commissioners gone – who knows whether Trevor Phillips will survive. Having just signed a new three year contract for his job – and with Government backing – he may do. If he does – he has one hell of a lot of mending to do – and perhaps a little bit of humility might help.

0 thoughts on “Troubles at the Equality and Human Rights Commission

  1. "Women have been the sacrificial lambs that Phillips has happily led to slaughter in the Equalities Bill"Such a shame, a reasonably well thought out article, full of sensible points, completely ruined by a paragraph complete utter nonsense.I don't particularly like Philips, but he's certainly a lot more sensible than most of the awful people in the EHRC.TBH I find it quite amusing seeing all these egos all trying to argue for special treatment and unique powers and privileges for whatever group of people they supposedly represent. Would be far better to have some decent, honest, non biased people employed who actually cared about equality rather than just having hidden agendas.If the EHRC was of any use it would be interested in helping all disadvantaged members of society in all areas. I.e. they wouldn't just focus on the workplace or politics, but instead they would be at aeast as focused on far more important issues for most people such as equality in healthcare, education or in people's family lives.Of course if they were to look at such areas properly they'd see that men were by far the most discriminated against group (eg access to healthcare, cancer treatment and research, screening for diseases, the Family Courts, paternity leave, domestic violence, schools failing boys etc etc) The fact that such a group has absolutely no voice or recognition at the EHRC renders the whole organisation fundamentally unfit for purpose before they've even begun.

  2. Just spotted that Lib Dem David Laws is in the news today agreeing with me about schools failing boys. Nice to see someone speaking out on such important issues. The damage New Labour have done to the lives of boys (and children as a whole) is a scandal.

  3. Lynne, I think you are right when you refer to the difficulty in merging the different equalities strands together into one body. But it's not just about the personalities and egos of commissioners or the management style of Trevor Phillips. There's a basic structural problem, which is the government's approach of lumping all equalities strands into one soup.Yes, there are many common themes to discrimination and overlapping interests, and people have multiple identities. So in that respect the EHRC makes sense. But there are also significant differences. Not only does racism manifest itself in different ways to, say gender discrimination, but understanding how racism works (for instance) requires a particular insight. I have heard black women say that while they are both black and a woman, they are able to tell if they are being victimised due to one of their identities. You see, the victim also has the right to choose to seek representation from someone who they feel truly understands their experience.So, share experience and cooperation between the strands by all means, but also lets find a way in the EHRC for better recognising the different approaches (as well as the joint ones) that are required.

  4. I'm not sure why you say woman have been sacrificed.The mentally ill have been far more persecuted under Labour. The ongoing furore against those on invalidity benefits have been primarily targetted against the mentally ill.As anyone hwo has had to deal with mental health services will know there is very little care and very little help.Therefore you get labelled, with some disorder or another, you'r life is largely ruined because of stigmatism – or simply because you are exhibiting the symptoms of your illness – and then along comes James Purnell and his ilk and brands you as a malingerer and a fraud based on the biased report by Dr Freud and bobs your uncle, you are instantly cured, put onto JSA, told to take jobs that you can't get – because you have been awaiting unsuitable treatement for too long – or can't do because no allowance is made of your disability.And on top of all this, the EHRC lumps the disabled together, and the people they have to speak for the disabled represent the physically disabled and have pretty much the same prejudices as the the rest of society.Thus the vicious cycle, and the never ending prejudice.NB Freud's report used the figures for disability in the 1980's when invalidity benefit was introduced and concluded that the figures should be roughly the same – and the increase was based on'Tory' manipulations of the unemployment figures.Which completely ignores the closure of the asylums and the introduction of care in the community, the increase in drug use, the recessions and increasing of personal debt, etc…. i.e. it chooses to ignore reality for the sake of PR driven 'fiscal' prudence.The EHRC would be missed by no-one and it's disappearance would probably do more to promote and deal with inequality and human rights than any or the reports it produces.

  5. Becoming pretty clear there is significant confusion and bewilderment as to Lynne's strange claims about women being sacrificed.Please could you enlighten us as to your reasoning here Lynne or perhaps provide some evidence as I, like others, really cannot see any real basis for your claims.Thanks

  6. Lynne, have you looked at the strange web site Kerry McCarthy (Lab, Bristol East) has posted on her web site the letter from Yvette Cooper to MPs [1] about Backing Young Britain and the Future Jobs Fund. On the first topic, she refers recipients to a contact in DWP referred me to the site at, which is 'Building a society for all ages' – and in that section I note that one of the participants is the Government Equalities Office, which turns out to be Harriet Harman's fiefdom… (But DfT isn't included, which seems to say everything about that dept.)[1]