Equality And Justice? Only If You Can Afford Them

With cuts to legal advice services, justice and equality are denied those who can’t afford them, argues Shantele from Cheshsire, Halton and Warrington Race Equality Centre.

Shantele, CHAWREC

I recently read about the case of Elliot Browne, a former NHS manager who won almost £1million in compensation against Central Manchester University NHS Trust for racial discrimination. It said he was so badly affected by the ordeal that he considered suicide.

Unfortunately, our discrimination casework service sees many people in the same position, who are so traumatised by their experiences that they fall into a spiral of anxiety and depression.

Discrimination is an insidious creature and its effects are long reaching, often affecting people’s confidence for years to come.

An end to frontline legal casework

Eliot’s success in winning the compensation comes a matter of weeks after we heard news that the Government was ending the EHRC’s legal grants programme from April, which funds our discrimination casework service. It is a service that we are rightly proud of, offering a lifeline for people who have no-where else to turn, advising them of their rights and helping them find a remedy.

The government described the EHRC’s grants programme as ‘poorly administered’, but has failed to put in place an alternative structure to deliver the £4.2 million that was previously being awarded to deliver casework on the ground.

Double discrimination

Advice organisations across the country are not only being battered by the cuts in public spending, but are now facing the very real threat of cutting their discrimination casework services.

Legal aid may still be an option for a few, but most of the cases we deal with are for people who don’t qualify but can’t afford the costs of a private solicitor. Those who encounter discrimination are often already in the lowest paid jobs, so they will now face double discrimination as they struggle to access good quality advice.

So what will be the impact of this latest cut? 

Realistically, I think it will mean fewer people exercising their rights under equality legislation and more employers getting away with discriminating because there is no one left to challenge them.  We know that case law shapes policy and practice, so the fewer cases that get heard the more likely we are to see a return to poor policy and a lack of consideration for equality issues.

We may have stronger equality laws than ever before, but what use are they if the people they were designed to protect can’t use them?

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