Recommendation: The Government need to carry out a formal audit, or a full equality impact assessment on the current budget, including its effect on BME people.
The Treasury, in compliance with the PSED, needs to carry out a full equality impact assessment of current and proposed budget provisions, in order to ensure that future budgets are written with the aim of not adversely affecting BME people.
As with other policies in other government departments, the Ministry of Justice accepts that cuts to legal aid and the introduction of fees for employment tribunal cases and increased county court fees disproportionately impact some persons with protected characteristics.202 Indeed, the cuts have severely limited access to justice for BME employees, people who experience discrimination and/or harassment at work, in housing, education, in accessing public or private sector services and in their treatment by the police, prisons and other state bodies.
BME people (alongside disabled people and women) are especially affected by the reduction of the scope of civil legal aid and reform of the procedure for to judicial reviews.203 In particular, the introduction of employment tribunal fees has been disastrous for individuals’ ability to access justice or enforce their employment equality rights and has led to a huge drop of claims (10,967 claims between January and March 2014, representing an 81% drop compared with the same period the previous year).204 For race discrimination, employment tribunal claims dropped by 58% between 2012/13 and 2014/15 in England and Wales, and by 66% for the same period in Scotland205 If, as has been suggested, this was the result of keeping weak cases out of the system, there would be a higher change in the outcomes of tribunal hearings but this has not been the case. Outcomes have remained the same.206 As stated by the DLA, “the difficulty in accessing the tribunal to enforce employment rights means that the practical value of these rights has been substantially reduced. This includes […] the equality rights found primarily in the Equality Act 2010.” The DLA reports that its members are often approached by individuals with strong potential claims, but once they are aware of the fee, they choose not to continue.207 The fees are also highly disproportionate to the rewards of a tribunal - one third of race discrimination awards are below £4,000.208 There are also indications that internal grievances and complaints of racial discrimination are not being handled sensitively nor fairly as employers feel they have greater impunity following the introduction of prohibitive fees.209 There was also a 70% drop in workers pursuing claims for non-payment of the national minimum wage, which may disproportionately affect BME workers who are over-represented in low and below minimum wage employment.210 In Scotland, the Scottish Government’s decision to cut the legal aid budget by £10 million is likely to limit access to the justice system for those with a low income, which will disproportionately affect those from a minority ethnic background.211 In Wales as well, the changes made to the legal aid system in April 2013 have been a barrier to ethnic minority people exercising their full rights under the Convention. In Wales the changes have affected appeals for school exclusions which have impacted a vast number of ethnic minority pupils, especially Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children. Employment matters have also been affected, with access to justice for workplace discrimination cases denied.212