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Do spending cuts have to be "fair" to disabled people by law?

Equality Duty and the June 2010 budget

Questioning of Treasury Minister Mark Hoban on the BBC's Today programme this week seemed to suggest that he was not clear whether the Coalition's first Budget needed a formal assessment under the new Equality Act. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) then confirmed that they had been in talks with the government about this issue for some time.

The EHRC's Director General said that "When the Spending Review was announced in June, the Commission wrote to government departments, including the Treasury, asking for reassurance that they would comply with the legislation and issuing guidance to help them to do this. We have pressed the point in person with a number of Cabinet Ministers."

The EHRC statement said that the government must meet its legal duty. This duty is to consider the effect of budget cuts on vulnerable groups (including disabled people), especially any "disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups" when making decisions. "It is for the Treasury to demonstrate that it has complied ... If it cannot do so, then the Commission will have to consider appropriate enforcement action."

In the EHRC's view, government is not obliged to carry out a formal Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) - but it must show "robust evidence" for the fairness of its decisions, and an EIA would be a good way to do that.

The Commission is producing new guidance in the autumn to help public bodies take decisions in a way that fulfils their  legal duties under the Equality Act. The duties can apply to almost all public bodies, at national, regional and local level.

Equalities and Human Rights Commission