Commission for Racial Equality Breaching Race Equality Laws

Report on CRE sends warning to new Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Public Interest Research Unit today, 28th September 2007, publishes a 281 page report (Race Back from Equality) on the Commission for Racial Equality’s (CRE) compliance with its race equality duties (introduced, in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, to tackle institutional discrimination). The research charity also sends a warning to the new Equality and Human Rights Commission (which takes over from the CRE on Monday).

Has the CRE been breaching the race equality general duty? (see note 1 on what the duty requires)

  • At least 96% of CRE policies in breach since 2001. Between 1 April 2001 (when the Race Relations Act race equality general duty came into force) and 1 June 2007, the CRE has conducted just 5 race equality impact assessments (REIAs) (a finding which the CRE has confirmed to us in writing). From sampled CRE documents, we identified 140 policies which appear to have required an REIA. The difference between the number which appear to have required an assessment (140), and the number assessed (5), indicates that at least (see note 2) 135 policies were non-compliant with the race equality general duty.
  • CRE more in breach than central government departments it found to be in breach. Our finding was based upon the methodology that the CRE has adopted in its investigations; and, therefore, if the CRE had investigated itself, we assume that it should have found itself to be in breach. In 2006, the CRE found a number of central government departments to be in breach of the race equality general duty (on account of not having conducted enough REIAs). However, among those found to be in breach, the MOD had conducted 20 REIAs during the year in question, and the Department for Work and Pensions had conducted 19 (over 20 and 19 times more than the average annual number (i.e. less than 1) that the CRE has conducted).

Some problems at the CRE
We also looked at how the CRE has directed its efforts in three areas (employment practice, legal assistance, and its approach to multiculturalism) in the last five years; and considered whether conducting REIAs in these areas (as it was required to do by law) may have led to some improved outcomes.  Findings included, for example, –

  • Analysis of internal CRE documents (obtained under the Freedom of Information Act), and interviews with a limited number of ex-CRE staff, indicated that there have been serious race equality related employment problems within the CRE (some of which resulted in complaints of racial discrimination to the employment tribunals).
  • Interviews with a limited number of community groups and legal advice providers indicated that the CREs attacks on multiculturalism might have led to some increase in the expression of prejudice; left a substantial number of individuals from ethnic minorities feeling more isolated; and may have (according to some interviewees) contributed to a significant number of cases of criminal racial harassment. It should be stressed, however, that more groups will need to be interviewed to better determine the magnitude of these possible impacts. In addition, our media analysis noted, with some concern, that the BNP’s website suggests (approvingly it seems) that Trevor Phillip’s comments on multiculturalism had removed the lid ‘from a pressurised container.’
  • PIRUs report suggests that proper REIAs may have helped reduce some of these problems. For example, employment REIAs might have facilitated improvements in how the CRE’s grievance procedures were implemented (helping to resolve some disputes without recourse to the employment tribunals); and an REIA on its departure from its traditional support for multiculturalism may (especially if it had involved consultation among CRE ‘stakeholders’) have led to some hesitation, or at least more careful phrasing, before it removed ‘the lid’.

While the CRE closes its doors forever on the 28th September 2007, many of its ideas, and senior personnel, are set to reappear in the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) or have already done so. We would argue, therefore, that the CEHR could usefully learn from any mistakes that the CRE may have made; and should make every effort to avoid their repetition across all the equality strands (including ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, and religion and belief). 

The report’s author, Rupert Harwood, said today:
“The CRE has a proud history as an independent and influential voice. But in the past few years it appears to have abandoned some of its founding principles; become unusually close to Government; lost the confidence of disadvantaged groups; breached its race equality duties; dramatically cut its legal assistance and enforcement; and focussed on a campaign in the media against multiculturalism. We were left with some suspicion that the CRE may in some respects have become part of the problem as well the solution”.

“The early signs are that it will be CRE business as usual at the new CEHR. We want to make it clear that there will be those watching the watch-dog. Once it has had time to settle in, we’ll be conducting an audit of the CEHR’s compliance with its constitutional duties and the range of equality duties, and will support legal proceedings if it is found to be in breach”. 

1. It is generally understood that the courts have determined that the Race Relations Act section 71(1) race equality general duty requires public authorities to assess whether each of their policy proposals is relevant to racial equality; and to conduct more detailed race equality impact assessments (REIAs) on those found to be relevant. The CRE has made it clear that it considers this to be the case.
2. The number of non-compliant policies is likely to have been considerably higher than 135, as the 140 policies were identified from a sample of CRE documents.
3. The five REIAs it conducted since 2001 were on two codes of practice; and on its Strategy for the English Regions, European and International Strategy, and Public Duty Monitoring Plan.
4. The 135 unassessed policies included, for example, the CREs education, criminal justice, housing, health, public and private sector, parliamentary, and religion and belief strategies.