The government is to challenge Whitehall departments to explain why so many are ignoring their duties under race discrimination legislation.
Last week, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) said government departments were “perilously close” to being subjected to enforcement action for failure to deliver on their legal duties under the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000).
By law, central government departments are required to assess new policies and legislation for their impact on race equality through Race Equality Impact Assessments (REIA).
The CRE found 15 government departments were not complying with the duty, and eight of them hadn’t carried out a single assessment between April 2004 and March 2005, despite developing hundreds of policies.
The DTI, which is primarily responsible for advancing UK business, was among those which had not done a single check.
A government spokeswoman said it took its responsibility for complying with legislation and driving forward race equality across Whitehall “very seriously”.
“We will respond to the CRE as soon as possible following talks with all departments,” she said.
A spokeswoman from the Home Office, which is co-ordinating the response to the CRE, said: “Much effort has gone into work in this area within departments. However, this highlights the significant challenge that remains to embed implementation into the policy-making process.”
Nick Johnson, director of policy and public sector at the CRE, said the consequences of ignoring race equality when designing policy and legislation could leave whole communities facing unmanaged discrimination.
“Who would believe that health, education and business policies, for example, would not have an impact on race [issues]?” he said.
Johnson said that if departments didn’t “do their homework”, ill-judged policies and legislation could perpetuate racial inequality.
In a separate response, the Treasury said it had not carried out a formal impact assessment because the majority of policies it was involved with were implemented by other departments, which are responsible for compliance.
Number of race equality impact assessments April 2004 to March 2005
Ministry of Defence – 20
Department for Work & Pensions – 19
Cabinet Office – 18
Dept. for Constitutional Affairs – 11
Home Office – 10
Defra – 9
Department for Transport – 8
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister – 8
Department of Health – 0
HM Treasury – 0
Dept. for Culture, Media & Sport – 0
Foreign & Commonwealth Office – 0
Department of Trade & Industry – 0
Department for International Development – 0
Department for Education & Skills – “impossible to state”