In its report Beyond Tolerance: Making sexual orientation a public matter, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) recommends that local authorities (and other public agencies) survey their staff and users of public services to ascertain respondents sexual orientation. This policy is expensive and wrong. It is symptomatic of the problems with the EHRC. I believe the Conservatives should object to this proposal and the existence of the EHRC for the following reasons.
This proposal is a huge undertaking. Millions of citizens could be surveyed. This data would need to be managed. You would expect the EHRC to provide some clarification on the following but they do not;
- The scope: The public agencies which would be subject to this policy are not listed. The EHRC merely state that they want the non collection of such data to be the exception.
- The cost: There is no attempt to provide an estimate of the cost of this policy to each public agency and taxpayers as a whole.
- The funding: There is no attempt to specify how we will pay for this policy – which taxes will be raised or spending in other areas cut?
- The management of the data: The paper does not show in detail how the data will be collected and managed (I assume that the data would be held as an aggregate rather than be associated with named individuals).
It is possible (though still deplorable) to indulge such woolly proposals when public funds are plentiful but this is no longer the case. Britain is in dire financial straits. Our national budget deficit amounted to £178 billion and our economy shrank by 4.75 per cent in 2009. Our economic growth in the last quarter was only 0.1 per cent. We could easily face a double dip recession in which negative economic growth returns. This economic background does not feature in the EHRC report. The EHRC seem to be working from a default operating position that public funds are still in abundance.
Now it may be the case that such data needs to be assembled and compiled. Perhaps this is the case. However, the argument for such intrusive and costly data collection needs to be made with reference to a world where essential services are facing the prospect of severe cuts. The case for this survey needs to be made with reference to the needs of public transport, social care, health, criminal justice and defence for public funds.
Conservatives should also object to the EHRC because it’s very remit damages Britain. It is;
- Discriminatory: The EHRC must define incidences of difference (e.g. the supposed under-representation of specific groups in certain professions) as the product of prejudice and discrimination if it is to justify its existence. The idea that these differences are the product of minorities making free choices, in a free society, as free individuals, does not occur to them. Positive Discrimination damages social cohesion by putting one section of society against another.
- Divisive: The organisation depends on specific societal groups being designated victim groups (DVG) in order to justify its existence. Instead of helping to build a society which is colour blind the organisation endorses ‘positive’ discrimination to help DVG’s. This entrenches prejudice and creates a justified sense of grievance among non DVG’s.
- Dictatorial: The EHRC is an unelected quango which continually acts to compel elected public authorities to perform actions that voters have not endorsed and which elected members oppose. Its purpose is to ensure that whatever party is elected a politically correct agenda will be advanced by public bodies.
- Expensive: The EHRC costs £70 million per annum to run. However, these costs are merely the tip of the iceberg. The EHRC works as a political lobby group to campaign for increased public expenditure. It will oppose attempts by the Conservatives to reduce public expenditure.
- Politicised: The EHRC works to lobby the Council of Europe, the UN and the British Government etc to enact specific pieces of legislation. Its first strategic goal is “securing, implementing and promoting legislative changes.” This means UK taxpayers are paying for one arm of Government to lobby other parts of Government.
The EHRC is calling for an incredibly costly unfunded policy to be adopted. This demonstrates a cavalier attitude to public funds which the EHRC should be wary of. Readers should note that the National Audit Office recently refused to sign off the EHRC's accounts.
Whichever party is elected in the upcoming General Election will have to make serious reductions in public expenditure. These are necessary if our country is not to enter a debt spiral of credit downgrades, interest payment increases and ever more severe public spending cuts. A good place to start would be to review the existence of numerous Quangos such as the EHRC. Maybe it would be better to have local politicians make policy decisions and be accountable to their electorate for them. At least then the bodies proposing policies would understand a little more the costs and processes involved in implementing them.
The views expressed above are my personal views and not those of my employer or any other organisation with which I am associated.