By Andrew Holt

NAVCA is alarmed by Government plans to drop equalities impact assessments (EIA) before cutting or introducing new services, announced by David Cameron yesterday in a speech to the CBI in London.

In the past failure to do this has led to landmark legal victories for Charities such as when Birmingham City Council attempted to change eligibility for adult social care from thousands of disabled people.

David Cameron called EIAs “bureaucratic nonsense” and said that the Government would be getting rid of EIAs as part of plans to crack down on "time-wasting" caused by the "massive growth industry" in legal challenges to government policy.

NAVCA is alarmed by this move because charities have used EIAs as a practical tool to prevent policies being introduced that adversely affect already disadvantaged groups, such as the disabled, the elderly and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

The high profile legal challenges, in Southall, Birmingham and the Isle of Wright, have helped all statutory bodies improve decision making through ensuring a greater consideration of the impact of decisions.

Without EIAs, NAVCA warns, there is a risk that decisions are pushed through without considering the impact on communities and the future cost of tackling any problems they create.

Joe Irvin, chief executive of NAVCA, said: “This announcement is shocking. Economic growth may be the Government’s number one priority; but permitting unfair and bad decision making will not help this.

"Checking equality impacts is not a tick box exercise, it is about ensuring basic fairness. Is it really unreasonable for government to consider how their policies will affect already disadvantaged groups? There’s a simple way for government to avoid legal challenge – do it right first time.

“Equality impact assessments allow policymakers to think through the impacts of what they are doing, based on evidence. They are a vital protection for the most vulnerable and people against arbitrary decisions by public officials.

"As a country, we managed to stage the Olympics and build over 100 hospitals in the past 10 years with EIAs in place. Their abandonment would be a backward step that calls into question the government’s commitment to fairness and equality. There is no need to abandon them.”

Irwin Mitchell solicitors, who have been at the forefront of supporting charities to use public law, said: “The Equality Act provides vital protection to sections of society at risk of discrimination.

"In a number of recent court cases public bodies have been criticised for failing to comply with their equality duties, in circumstances where a properly considered equality impact assessment could have demonstrated compliance with the Act.

"Any measure which seeks to discourage public bodies from conducting equality impact assessments should be treated with caution and risks diluting the protection offered by the Equality Act.”

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