The Equality Coalition held a training seminar on Friday 4 April in UNISON for members of the Equality Coalition and other NGOs, community groups, voluntary organisations, policy officers and trade unionists. The session looked at how best to make complaints to ensure District Councils, Health Trusts, Education Boards, the Housing Executive, Government Departments etc abide by equality law and the commitments in their ‘equality schemes.’
Public bodies have recently adopted ‘second generation’ equality schemes, and Equality Coalition members invested a lot of time engaging with public authorities in the development of the schemes. As well as written comments over 150 public authorities attended a series of eight Equality Coalition events to discuss their draft equality schemes. Now that the public authorities are at implementation stage the Equality Coalition members were keen to make sure that the equality duty is actually put into practice and the schemes are abided by. The schemes contain commitments and duties on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity, as well as duties to monitor inequalities and to ‘screen’ and impact assess new or changed policies for the impact they have on equality across community background, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation and other grounds.
The Equality Coalition was conscious that whilst there are many examples of good practice there are also unfortunately examples of public authorities acting in a way which worsens inequalities or some are generally avoiding their duties to properly screen and equality impact assess policies, even on major policies such as current cuts to health services, welfare reform and housing policy.
Whilst it is free and usually relatively straightforward to issue a complaint that a public authority has breached its scheme, in practice the complaints mechanism, which leads to an investigation by the public body and ultimately the Equality Commission, is not used very often, meaning most breaches of the Equality Schemes are never redressed.
Thus the aim of this seminar was twofold: first to highlight successful strategies a number of groups have had in challenging inequalities in general, this included presentations from:
• Ciarán Moynagh, Partner McLernon Moynagh Solicitors on Freedom of Information Requests and Appeals:
‘Rainbow Project’s Challenge to the DHSSPS blood ban advices.’
• Nicola Browne Participation and the Practice of Rights Project (PPR): ‘Mobilising Support for Equality: the Lower Shankill Regeneration Board’ and
• Bernadette McAliskey South Tyrone Empowerment Programme
‘From Naming to Realisation: a journey in progress for Travellers.’
Secondly the seminar was aimed to provide information specifically on how to enforce the commitments in ‘equality schemes.’ This was delivered in the second session of the day with a presentation by Daniel Holder, CAJ, co-convener of the Equality Coalition on how to use the equality scheme complaints procedure and Eileen Laverty Head of Strategic Enforcement, Equality Commission for Northern Ireland discussed the complaints process at the Commission.
The seminar finished off with the attendees splitting into smaller groups and discussing how to complain using some case studies as examples, these included Transforming your Care, Welfare Reform, Delivering Social Change for Children and Young People, housing policy and lack of an over arching sexual orientation strategy.
The groups then fed back to an expert panel made up from Equality Coalition members, Patricia McKeown co-convener of the Equality Coalition, Daniel Holder, Jonathan Swallow Equality Consultant and Eileen Lavery from the ECNI. The panel members were again able to share good practice and learning’s for the groups.
The seminar itself got people thinking about how to enforce the equality schemes but also it provided a good networking opportunity for people to discuss pertinent equality breaches with liked minded groups and to gain knowledge from talking to the experts on next steps.
The Equality Coalition intend to run this event again on Friday 27 June 10-2pm in UNISON Offices, Derry/ Londonderry, to book a place please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Emma on 02890 316016 on or before Friday 13 June.