Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Human Rights and Equality Disappointments - The need to get off our knees

Finding myself at this time of year unusually outside the space of electoral politics, I have had time to focus a little harder on the other things around me. This afternoon the shocking revelation of the failure of the criminal justice system to obtain a single conviction for sixty people living in Kettering being kept in near slavery-like conditions leaves many of us with all too many questions. Many of these people were trafficked from their homes. Speaking earlier on in the year to a police officer involved in the investigation, it seems it was through investigating the theft of charity bags in the with second hand clothing that had alerted the police to the conditions that these workers were living and working in appalling physical abuse, threats and harassment. More than 20 of the workers were crammed into a three-bedroom terraced house with a single toilet that did not work.
This situation continued for four years with no one coming forward to the police or to report the situation to any other agency. There are various parties that share the blame for this including the Gang Master Licensing Authority that issued the license to the employers, the multi-million pound supermarkets that bought the produce. It is situations like this that highlight the real need for advice that reaches the individuals in greatest need. However, with drastic reforms and cuts to legal advice, one can’t help feeling that things are just going to get worse. Check out the campaigns on this here and here. This all comes together with the Government Equality Office releasing a consultation paper earlier this month, clearly stating that they wish the Equality and Human Rights Commission to cease funding their legal grants programme from 2012. They seem to think that this in the future could be funded by legal aid regardless of the fact that legal aid will not fund tribunal representation. With respondents generally only really motivated to settle cases as the tribunal date approaches, any respondent that is aware that the claimant in their case is supported by legal aid is likely to play hard ball to the end, increasing the number of tribunals that taken place and increase in the costs of justice for all of us. Perhaps the icing on the cake was the newly released proposals for equality regulations. These have been re-issues after initially being issued at the start of the year (hummm ... like that did take more resources at a time when I thought we are all mean to be tightening our belts) and significantly waters down the obligations on public bodies to demonstrate that they are doing all they can to elimination discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and promote good relations and just to make sure that we are on a generally uphill struggle the Equality and Human Rights Commission is having 55% of its budget cut. In such circumstances it is all too easy to not fight back when it comes to the bad news. However with decisions being changed nationally and locally all the time with the right kind of pressure at the right time, it’s all the more reason to hope and make ourselves heard. Join me and fight against the EHRC cuts by signing this.