The Equality and Human Rights Commission and its role have been the subject of much debate over the last year. It was set up in order to help create a Britain where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, where everyone has an equal chance to succeed. They are aims that chime with the innate sense of fair play that is at the heart of our country. And of course discrimination holds people back, shrinks opportunities and stunts careers – the last thing we need in this economic climate.
However, it’s fair to say that, since its creation in 2007, the EHRC has struggled. Struggled to deliver across its wide remit, and struggled to demonstrate that it is delivering value for taxpayers’ money. It’s simply been neither effective nor efficient enough to make progress toward those noble aims.
But this is changing. To its credit, the EHRC has taken a number of steps toward reform in the past year.
It now uses far less public money. It has also begun to adjust the way it works, focusing on its key role as a strong, independent watchdog. It has done a great deal, but there is much more to be done. As the organisation re-focuses it is vital that we continue to monitor its performance to ensure it is delivering on its core purpose.
We’ve already made good headway with our package of reforms, which will see some of the Commission’s duties and powers removed from the Equality Act so that it can refocus its efforts on promoting equality and tackling discrimination. It’s in nobody’s interest if a watchdog has no teeth, but nor should it be distracted from its core duty.
This week saw another invaluable step forward: I was really pleased to be able to appoint Baroness Onora O’Neill, as the new Chair of the Commission. Baroness O’Neill has an inspiring track record as a well respected academic and an expert in equality and human rights issues. I am confident that she will provide the strong leadership and vision needed to steer the organisation as it completes its process of reform and evolves into the respected national institution that it always intended to be.
I am very much looking forward to seeing what she will bring to the role when she starts next month – and to watching the changes begin to take place at the Commission as it finishes its reforms.