Equality safeguards under attack?

I hate silly rules. I hate being told not to do things that I would never do anyway. Boo to silly patronising rules.

So when the Government say they want to cut red tape and bureaucracy and free up business, who could disagree? Let’s fire up the economy and have a street party!

But hang on a minute. Aren’t some rules there for a reason? Aren’t they there to protect vulnerable people? To make sure that their needs aren’t being overlooked?

Take the Equality Act and (before that) the Disability Discrimination Act. They contain duties seeking to protect disabled people from discrimination. I didn’t get the memo that disability discrimination has now been eradicated. Oh, it hasn’t.

The Act also include duties for public sector bodies: to make sure they assess the impact of their polices on disabled people and consult and involve them in decisions about them. All evidence I’ve seen suggests this leads to better policy-making. It certainly stops you from doing something stupid like halving the number of Teachers of the Deaf and still pretending it will have no impact on the service for deaf children.

Other important duties exist to safeguard the rights of deaf and other disabled children – in particular:
* the right to be assessed and have special educational needs support in schools
* to receive social care support such as short breaks
* to equal access to education
* to investigate where a child may be suffering harm

These duties are important. The last time I looked deaf children were still 35% less likely than all children to achieve 5 GCSEs (incl. English and Maths) at grades A* to C – even though deafness is not a learning disability. Still more likely to suffer mental health problems and be victims of child abuse. Still among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in society today. With public spending cuts now starting to bite, these rights and duties are even more important – to make sure that a relatively small group of children are not forgotten about and still get the support they need to achieve their potential.

So why, despite all of this, does the Government seem intent on getting rid of these basic protections? To ask once whether these are important duties would be worrying enough. But to ask thrice would imply seem sort of concerted attack on the rights of disabled children.

Exhibit number one: the “Red Tape Challenge”, asking whether the Equality Act should be scrapped altogether.

Exhibit number two: the Government Equalities Office asking how to reduce “bureaucracy” associated with the Equality Act public sector duty.

Exhibit number three: the Communities and Local Government “informal” review of all statutory duties.

My first response to all of this is: is it a good use of government money to be running three concurrent consultations asking the same sort of questions? Could the money not be better spent on, say, reducing the deficit or protecting deaf children?

My second response to all of this is: are you for real? Are they seriously questioning whether we should just do away with equality duties and duties that protect children? The starting assumption in all three consultations is that these duties are bad, bureaucratic, burdensome. I always thought promoting equality for disabled people was a good thing. Does society really want to be wasting the huge many talents (such as modesty) of people like me? Do they not think I have a right to have a say on decisions that affect me? I might have some good ideas of my own (like fewer consultations). Do we no longer want to make sure disabled children are protected?

To be fair, in the latter consultation, the defendant does recognise that some duties are vital (though they don’t ask whether some duties should be strengthened). But I would argue that some duties are so vital, it’s offensive to even question whether they should be scrapped. It’s also alarming in the extreme to parents of deaf children who, I think, have enough to worry about than participate in some “I’m a bureaucratic regulatory burden, get me out of here!” charade.

A desire to cut red tape should not be at the cost of essential protections for deaf children. End of.