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Cath Everett

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Treasury probe into CSR fairness impact

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The Equality and Human Rights Commission is to carry out a formal probe into whether the Treasury met its legal obligations to consider the impact of the Comprehensive Spending Review on racial minorities, women and the disabled.
 

The move follows the filing of papers with the High Court in August by the Fawcett Society, a gender equality campaign group, to seek a Judicial Review of the coalition government’s emergency budget.
 
Under equality laws, which cover race, gender and disability, the government has a legal duty to pay ‘due regard’ to equality issues and assess whether its decisions would have a disproportionate effect on protected groups. If they are found to do so, it is obliged to consider what actions can be taken to avoid, mitigate or justify the impact.
 
But the Fawcett Society claims that the Treasury has refused to provide any evidence of work in this area despite repeated requests. It is still waiting to hear whether it has been granted its judicial review.
 
A top line assessment of the impact of the budget indicated that women’s income will be hit disproportionately, however. The group claims that 72% of the cuts will born by women compared with only 28% for men due to benefit cuts that more females than males rely on. Changes to the tax system will also be more beneficial to males than females, it attests.
 
But the Equality and Human Rights Commission has now also weighed in, setting in motion a process to ensure that the Treasury complied with the law.
 
Its investigation should not be taken as an indication that the Treasury had failed to fulfil its duty, however, it said. The aim was instead to continue their “ongoing constructive work” to evaluate what steps had been taken to comply with equality legislation and “identify any potential opportunities for improvement”, the body added.
 
Once the Commission’s assessment is complete, it will report its findings and make recommendations. If the Treasury is found to be in breach of the law, it could be served with a compliance notice or asked to enter into a “binding agreement” to take steps to avoid further breaches. Failure to comply with either options could result in a court order forcing the government agency to do so.
 
The Commission intends to publish its final report next summer.

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