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Last Updated: Monday, 1 October 2007, 01:34 GMT 02:34 UK
New equality body opens its doors
By Geoff Adams-Spink
Age & disability correspondent, BBC News website

Photo of Trevor Phillips
CRE boss Trevor Phillips will run the new commission
A new single equality body for England, Wales and Scotland comes into effect on 1 October, replacing three long-standing commissions.

The Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) will look after age, disability, gender, race, religion and sexual orientation.

The new organisation will also have a duty to promote and uphold the Human Rights Act.

Its chair is Trevor Phillips from the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE).

The CEHR has taken over the responsibilities of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) and the CRE.

It will assume the old commissions' existing powers and will also be able to enforce legislation and promote equality.

The issue of how we live together in our increasingly diverse world is of paramount importance
Nick Johnson, CRE

The CEHR describes itself as a "full spectrum equalities and human rights organisation" that will give support and advice to employers, voluntary and public sector bodies and individuals.

It says it wants to encourage "a society in which people can achieve their potential, free from prejudice or discrimination".

Integrated society

As the old bodies prepared to hand over to the new one each seemed keen to ensure that its particular agenda was carried forward.

"Although there has been progress over the last decade, disabled people still face huge barriers getting work, qualifications and vital support in the home," said DRC chairman, Sir Bert Massie.

"This has a huge impact as disabled people's talents go wasted and many face poverty... these are important issues for our society to get to grips with and for the new commission to tackle."

The DRC wants to see more family-friendly policies, more investment in public services and, in particular, more money being spent on social care.

Failure to act will have consequences for the social and financial health of countless individuals as well as the nation as a whole
Jenny Watson, EOC

And it says that improving disabled people's skills would boost the economy by 35bn over the next 30 years.

The CRE says that its successor needs to focus on creating an integrated society in order to reduce "pernicious inequalities, growing social segregation and declining participation".

"The issue of how we live together in our increasingly diverse world is of paramount importance - despite this, there's still a real risk that this agenda may be lost within the CEHR," according to the CRE's director of policy, Nick Johnson.

"If you are an ethnic minority Briton, you still are more likely to be stopped by the police, be excluded from school, suffer poorer health treatment and live in poor housing."

The CRE believes that an integrated Britain can only come about by achieving equality for, interaction between and participation by all sections of society.

Among practical measures, it recommends greater discussion of identity and citizenship at school, ridding the Prison Service of institutional discrimination and more money for local authorities experiencing rapid population change.

'Social revolution'

In a parting shot in July, the EOC issued a final report called Completing the Revolution which stated that gender equality was still "generations away".

For example, the commission said that the "power gap" between the sexes in Parliament would take more than 200 years to close at the present rate of progress.

The commission will begin from a standing start when it comes to age
Kate Jopling,
Help the Aged

Similarly, the EOC estimated that it would take more than 60 years to have better female representation in the UK's boardrooms.

"We're living in the midst of an unfinished social revolution," said EOC chair, Jenny Watson.

"Despite the many advances over recent years, Britain's institutions have not caught up with these changes - failure to act will have consequences for the social and financial health of countless individuals as well as the nation as a whole."

For equality strands like age, there is a concern that the CEHR will be on a steep learning curve and it may take a long time to effect change.

"The commission will begin from a standing start when it comes to age," according to Kate Jopling of Help the Aged.

"For it to make a real difference to real people in their daily lives it must now develop a strong agenda for tackling the endemic age discrimination that so many older people face."

Pooling resources and combining expertise on fighting inequality may well be the most rational approach but the commission will have to convince each of its constituencies that they will be getting a fair slice of the cake.


SEE ALSO
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