Navca and Voice4Change have voiced 'alarm' at government plans to cut £10m of grants to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), and warn that the cut will filter down to 62 local anti-discrimination groups.
The umbrella bodies joined to express concern over what they are calling a "backwards step" taken by the government through its equalities red tape challenge and reform of the EHRC announced in the publication of the Home Office business plan.
Vandna Gohil, director of Voice4Change which works as an advocate for the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voluntary and community sector, said there is a "wealth of research showing spending cuts are disproportionately impacting this sector and the communities they represent".
"Plans to cut £10m grant funding from the EHRC budget will decimate local groups providing legal and anti-discrimination services," she said.
"These groups are the only route to advice and advocacy for society's most vulnerable communities. The decision will mean fewer people exercising their rights under equality legislation and more employers, public bodies and individuals will get away with discrimination."
The government released its Home Office Business plan on 13 May outlining plans to "streamline and reform" the EHRC under a section of its business plan called "Build a fairer and more equal society". Within this section it also outlined plans to "consider the mechanisms for not bringing forward the Equality Act dual discrimination rules".
'A proportionate approach to legislation'
In addition Home Secretary Theresa May laid the outcomes of the equalities red tape challenge and the EHRC reform before Parliament on 15 May. She advised that the government would also proceed with a planned repeal of the socio-economic duty and that the government had "looked again" at the public sector equality duty (PSED):
"This government has a strong commitment to equality of opportunity. But we also have a strong desire to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy where it exists and consider alternatives to legislation. We committed last year to assess the effectiveness of the PSED specific duties. We have decided to bring forward that review and extend it to include both the general and specific duties to establish whether the duty is operating as intended," she said.
"A proportionate approach to legislation goes hand in hand with our plans for the EHRC," she continued.
"We want the EHRC to become a valued and respected national institution. To do so, we believe it must focus on the areas where it can add value – as an independent equality body and 'A - rated' national human rights institution. And, it must be able to show that it is using taxpayers' money wisely."
The government has made no such streamlining plans in other areas of equality, conversely announcing plans to "secure support for a new charter to tackle homophobia and transphobia in sport", "consult on proposals for bringing the informed opinion of women to government" and to provide extra support for disabled people who want to work in local or national politics.
Around £2m could be lost to London-based equality organisations in the plans, £5.3m in the rest of England, £500,000 in Wales, £716,000 in Scotland and nearly £1m in UK-wide projects. A full list of the projects affected can be found here.
Navca chief executive Joe Irvin expressed his distain for the cost-cutting measures: “Public spending cuts and job losses are hitting the already disadvantaged hardest. These proposals ditch pledges the government espoused only two years ago. I am saddened that local groups working hard to bind communities together are set to suffer more grant cuts. At a time like this, we should be strengthening equalities support, not painting essential rights as meaningless red tape.”
The Home Office budget is being cut from £10.2bn in 2010/11 to £8.3bn in 2014/15. The majority of the cuts will be absorbed through its programme spending which is being reduced from £8.6bn to £7.3bn.