The three existing equality commissions were
approached in order to gain some understanding of what might realistically
be expected of a human rights commission in working with public
Case work is the major consumer of the time
and resources of the equalities commissions. The EOC handles some
25,000 complaints a year of which, around 60 are taken to court.
The DRC handles some 30,000 complaints, 2 -3,000 of which might
require the attention of case workers or qualified advisors and
around 70 to be taken to court. Both the DRC and EOC employ rigorous
filtering criteria before deciding to take a case or support a
case in the courts. Cases taken are those that will clarify principles
in the law, test new law, extend the manner in which the law is
used or end serious abuse.
The equalities commissions are moving away from
pursuing a case work orientated agenda to seeking more promotional
ways of achieving change (being less reactive and becoming more
proactive in their work). Both the DRC and EOC seek to undertake
at least one campaign each year. Both commissions put a particular
emphasis on "knowledge transfer"getting other
organisations to embrace equality issues in their work. Thematic
inquiries are important to the work of the equality commissionsthe
EOC has conducted reviews of sex equality in the fire services
and coverage of diversity issues in national police training.
The DRC intends to launch an inquiry into hospital resuscitation
policies and disabled people.
None of the equalities commissions normally
work directly with individual public authorities. They do not
have the human and financial resources for this. Instead, they
focus their efforts on influencing the "umbrella" organisationsthe
representative and regulatory bodiesthat are already at
work within different sectors. As it was put, in the DRC, to work
with bodies that "press buttons and pull levers" within
a sector. The CRE appears to have the most effective and sophisticated
arrangements for utilising these existing networks. Armed with
its new powers under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, the CRE
has established an inspectorate forum and used the new public
sector duty to promote racial equality to prompt regulators to
include racial equality indicators in their regulatory activities.
We saw in section 7.5, for example, the impact that this was having
on the clinical governance review processes of the Commission
for Health Improvement.
Although not armed with a similar public sector
duty, the DRC has worked successfully with the DFES, Learning
and Skills Council, QCA, OFSTED and teacher training bodies to
produce a toolkit, for use in further education colleges. The
intention was to assist these colleges to meet and exceed the
standards and requirements for education set out in the Disability
The representative function of a commission
should not be underestimatedthe simple difference to be
made by having spokespersons who attend events and meetings in
a sector to express a viewpoint. The involvement of the commissions
in "local government family" networks, for example,
is clearly effective in raising the profile of equality issues.
Put simply, if you do not have a voice at the table your issue
does not get debated. If you come bearing gifts (resources and
materials) your issue may be adopted. And if you have a statutory
mandate, you can make people come to you to explain how they will
be achieving your objectives.