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Cutting bureaucracy: slashing protection

Ruth Patrick wonders if David Cameron's plan to cut the 'red tape' of equality impact assessments masks a darker purpose.

David Cameron announced late last year his intention to do away with equality impact assessments. Describing them as reams of 'bureaucratic nonsense', he proposed leaving the consideration of equality issues to the judgement and common sense of policy-makers.

Given the recent track record of policy-making by the government, with poor decision-making on everything from pasties and caravans to income tax, a reliance on judgement and the removal of these assessments should give us all cause for concern.

Introduced by the 2010 Equality Act, these impact assessments required public bodies to consider the impact of new policies and services in terms of disability, gender and ethnicity. Rather than meaningless bureaucracy, these assessments often highlighted unintended consequences where disabled people were particularly affected by a reform.

Take the reforms to the government’s cancer strategy as an example. The accompanying equality impact assessment picked up a potential problem with the increased use of mobile screening units which were often inaccessible for disabled people. It was agreed that those disabled people affected should be offered a screening appointment at a static unit within the same timeframe as those attending mobile units.

The equality impact assessment also led to tailored information sheets on various forms of cancer being produced for people with learning difficulties.

In the speech where he announced his plans to end these assessments, Cameron also promised to reduce the duration of government consultations, arguing that there will be cases where only a very short or even no consultation is required.

Government consultations on policy and equality impact assessments are both safeguards and mechanisms for making policy-making processes and consequences more accountable and transparent. It seems more than a little Machiavellian to be rubbishing and abolishing such safeguards as the government continues to introduce reforms that will have particularly adverse consequences for disabled people.

This year, the welfare reform merry-go-round will hit hard and against this backdrop, Cameron may well want to slash ‘red tape’ that helps us identify the impact of such reforms. But now, more than ever, we need this information so we can oppose and challenge the worst and most unfair aspects of the government’s reform programme.

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