Post by Colin Henderson on Feb 9, 2011 16:48:50 GMT
Well there goes another alternative. I'd always fancied a job at the Equality and Human Rights Commission - interesting work, nice people, no LSC forms and nice offices. And when legal aid went belly up, they were going to be first to get my CV. Not any more.
They had 12% cuts in the summer and have now had further 60% cuts announced. Sounds like there will be few people left - probably just Trevor Phillips and a little swarm of media types huddling round to catch his soundbites (I'm definitely not getting an interview now, am I?).
Post by Colin Henderson on May 5, 2011 14:24:43 GMT
Update on this. PCS members went on a token one-hour strike today in protest at the closure of all regional offices:
"Workers at the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s walked out today in protest at brutal budget cuts which would see regional offices close. PCS members in Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, London and Manchester co-ordinated a one-hour strike in a bid to save the essential service.
The union also accused the government and commission chief Trevor Philips of wanting to slash staff numbers from 460 to 200 and disconnect an advice helpline at the same time it is paying consultants more than £1,000 a day.
Striking workers in Birmingham received support from passing drivers as they donned yellow union t-shirts and held up placards outside their office. Workplace rep Laura Ingram said the action was the first of four strikes set for the next four weeks. But she explained that the action was limited to an hour so as not to “disrupt” the service for vulnerable people facing discrimination. “We’re here to display our dissatisfaction with the cuts,” she said. “But any strike action will affect people who face discrimination, so we have to take that into account.”
PCS campaigns officer Zahid Nawaz said workers at the commission performed a vital role in promoting equality “at the grassroots and in communities across Britain.” Mr Nawaz said the cuts made no sense in the context of the “big society” rhetoric from the coalition. “Our service is about community empowerment. We cannot do that if we are just based the other side of the Thames.”
Regional adviser Helar Shahid, who works in Nottingham, claimed bosses told them “to pack up their desks” with no discussion on what would happen next. “I am worried about losing my job,” he said.
A commission spokesperson said: “We regret that the union has decided to withdraw from this process after issuing a list of unrealistic demands which the commission simply cannot meet. The entire public sector is having to take difficult decisions and we are cannot give untenable guarantees to staff here.”
And this is relevant to legal aid. The consultation document states at para 2.17-2.18:
"Legal advice and Advocacy
Not all problems can be resolved informally and in some instances speedy access to legal advice is paramount. However, we do not believe that the state should fund legal advice and advocacy for claimants regardless of their income or financial means as is the case in some instances with the current EHRC legal grants programme. Therefore, instead of continuing to provide a separate funding stream for legal advice and advocacy on discrimination cases, we propose that support is solely delivered through civil legal aid. In addition to this, where cases are of strategic importance, the EHRC can still provide legal support to claimants.
As set out in Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, the Government has consulted on reducing the scope of civil legal aid in a range of categories. Government has however proposed retaining civil legal aid for all unlawful discrimination cases currently within the scope of the scheme. Therefore the consultation proposed that even if a discrimination case forms part of a category of law which if the reductions were implemented would no longer fall within the scope of civil legal aid (for example employment), funding would still be retained for those cases. Government recognises that currently discrimination is not recognised as a discrete category of contract for the purposes of civil legal aid funding and we will need to consider any practical issues arising in terms of the provision of advice in light of this."
So the EHRC will generally no longer be able to fund legal action for clients, something which they have successfully done for years. The alternatives are all nonsense of course. For example, how likely is it that an employment specialist is able to make a living from running discrimination cases alone? There is currently no such thing as an LSC discrimination law category or specialist. I expect eventually a token contract will be awarded to one national organisation in London with about 100 NMS just for show. It's now crystal clear there is a co-ordinated government move to weaken legal protection.
Post by Douglas Johnson on May 12, 2011 21:07:30 GMT
I meant to post about this before as i went to a very insincere "consultation" meeting with the Government Equalities Office. the battle is very much linked with the cuts proposed to legal aid and the cuts will affect many very vulnerable clients .
Essentially, the Government proposes two things: (1) to strip the EHRC of its helpline but to commission another helpline from scratch, run by another (private sector?) organisation and (2) to strip the EHRC of its power to fund the voluntary sector.
At present, the EHRC spends about £10 million of its £70 million budget on advice in Law Centres, RECs, CABx, etc. this is the legacy of funding from the old CRE and DRC. the funding covers casework that usually wouldn't be viable under legal aid.
The consultation is open until mid-June. it would be good to get some responses in.
In summary the recommendations were: "• We think that government should continue to fund the provision of information and generalist advice to ensure independent assistance for victims of discrimination to deliver cost-effective access to justice. Provision of information and generalist advice on discrimination and human rights matters, is in essence early intervention thereby increasing the opportunity for problems to be resolved informally, with consequent better outcomes for all involved.
• We conclude that the Government should no longer fund the EHRC to provide information and generalist advice because: i. the helpline does not play a clearly specified role in the provision of information or generalist advice. In particular it is unclear how its service differs from that of Citizens Advice/CABx or Acas. Certainly for England, the EHRC helpline can not operate as successfully, as for example Citizens Advice/CABx, because of the absence of the local infrastructure and consequent local knowledge and social capital that is essential for resolving justiciable problems informally. As already stated, we think that the EHRC should focus on its role in relation to taking forward and/or funding strategic cases. ii. the EHRC has not to date capitalised upon providing the helpline service through using the data captured via the helpline to inform strategic risk-based enforcement. We think that another provider would be better able to run the service and ensure that relevant data is captured and fed back to the EHRC to inform risk-based strategic enforcement. Arguably the focus and resource saved from not running the helpline would encourage the EHRC to focus on analysing the data received, and balancing this reactive source of information with proactive identification of systematic challenges to equality in the coming decade and their economic and societal impact. iii. in our view the EHRC does not have the commissioning and in particular procurement capability successfully to procure the information and generalist advice provision. iv. the benefit of government taking on this commissioning role, is the ability to integrate the provision of information and generalist advice on discrimination and human rights issues with both the subject matter of and the entities delivering advice and information on people’s legal rights in relation to civil law such as Citizens Advice, CABx, CLA and Acas.
• In addition to the above, we conclude that government should continue to fund one of the functions of the legal grants scheme, namely awareness-raising of discrimination and human rights as this is an integral part of Government’s focus on prevention/early intervention to resolve problems informally. Additionally, government should engage with partners to identify if there is anything that distinguishes discrimination cases from other cases eligible for civil legal aid that would justify further public funding for support."
In light of that review, the government decided to stop funding the Commission’s provision of its helpline and grants programmes from 31 March 2012. Over the past three years, (according to AdviceUK) EHRC grants has funded 60 NfP sector agencies to give advice and carry out casework on discrimination. These grants were worth £3.2m a year and will end in March 2012.
Can anyone estimate how many employment caseworker posts will be lost then?
Of course these will be in addition to the EHRC's own huge staff cuts and office closures that presumably are proceeding as threatened despite the protest strike action in May. In July the CEO wrote to all staff confirming the new organisational design of just 200 or so posts next year.
Currently the Government Equalities Office is commissioning a new Equality Advisory and Support service to replace the EHRC's own helpline. The contract notice dated 27th September 2011 read: "The service will provide specialist (non-legal) advice and support, through contact centre services, to individuals who believe they are the victim of a breach of GB discrimination law. The service will also provide some information and advice for victims of human rights breaches (although the remit of the service will be narrower for human rights). The value of this contract is estimated to be £6m over 36 months." The PQQ phase closed on 31 October 2011, responses are being evaluated and GEO intend to issue Invitations to Tender in mid-November.
Any further EHRC updates or information appreciated.
But to update this thread again, the PCS staff at EHRC held a one-day protest strike a while back, and the left-winger John McDonnell MP has recently tabled an EDM, which if nothing else gives us all an excuse to write to MPs to raise the profile of the loss of this service: