Disability chief says new equality body could fail

The proposed single equality body is more likely to fail than succeed because it will not be backed by legislation, according to the chairman of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC).

Speaking at a government-backed conference on diversity in London last week, Bert Massie said that setting up the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), before passing an Equality Act is “putting the cart before the horse”.

“It might fatally weaken the new body,” Massie said.

The CEHR, which is due to launch in 2007, was first proposed two years ago as a streamlined body, bringing together the Commission for Racial Equality, the DRC and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The DRC initially opposed the move, fearing that it would be swallowed up by the other more high-profile commissions. It also had issues with the idea of a ‘one-stop shop’ for businesses wanting advice on discrimination issues.

Massie said: “I have never met an employer so thick they are unable to remember three numbers.”

However, the DRC has now signed up to the CEHR, on the basis that it will include a disabled commissioner, a disability committee and a special disability unit, funded to the tune of 15m. “We have got assurances on these in the draft,” said Massie.

Members of the main political opposition parties also sounded a note of caution about the CEHR at the conference.

Conservative shadow trade and industry spokesmen Stephen O’Brien questioned why the annual expenditure of the new body will be higher than the three commissions put together. And Liberal Democrat Malcolm Bruce, said companies must set the example on equality, calling for more leadership from business.

CBI director general Sir Digby Jones told delegates that the new commission must be business-friendly. “Businesses like simple and direct information,” he said. “Hopefully it will mean just one regulator [and] not giving conflicting advice,” he said.

The CEHR will also cover sexual orientation, religion and age discrimination.

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