“Community Right to Challenge”

I’m a member of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. I’ve just received this email (which I’ve edited a bit) about the Localism Bill, which is due to have its Report Stage in the Commons soon and will then go to the Lords. Report Stage is when the Bill comes out of committee, i.e. it’s a report on what happened at Committee stage, and further amendments can be tabled.

” The Localism Bill contains a new provision called the ‘Community Right to Challenge’, which opens up public services to bids from ‘community groups’, including religious groups and organisations. Community groups bid to run public services on behalf of the public authority.

Our concern is that religious groups have exemptions under the Equality Act 2010 which means that if they win contracts under the ‘Community Right to Bid’, or any other public commissioning process, to provide public services, they are permitted to discriminate on religious grounds against employees and against service users. There is also nothing to prevent such groups from proselytising when they are providing public services on behalf of the state.

The DCLG Bill team is currently consulting on the ‘Community Right to Challenge’ [consultation closes May 3rd]. However, there are no proposals in that consultation, or measures in the Localism Bill itself, to prevent against discrimination by religious groups working under contract to provide public services.

Some members of the APPHG were very active during the passage of the Equality Act regarding equalities and religious organisations and public services – these are the same issues. The Localism Bill, and especially the ‘Community Right to Challenge’, is an ideal vehicle through which to promote real equality, and a real level playing-field in our public services. This issue is not one of discriminating against religious groups, rather it is one of ensuring that all providers are  required to work to the same high equality standards, to ensure that all public service employees are treated equally regardless of their personal beliefs, and to ensure that public services continue to be provided to all, without illegitimate and unnecessary discrimination.”

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Comments

  • Horsehair  On April 26, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Kerry,

    I agree with the sentiment of the campaign, but the e-mail you have recieved is wrong. The Equalities Act 2010 does not allow religious groups to discriminate against service users and employees, it only permits discrimination in the case of people who wholly or mainly are undertaking roles which relate to the faith. A preacher or bible-study teacher could be required to be a christian, but a cleaner or an accountant could not.

    Also, did you do your question about DEFRA today?

  • kerrymccarthy  On April 27, 2011 at 1:17 am

    I was actually going to add that to the piece but ran out of time – that my understanding was the same as your’s, that it was only where religion could be seen as a specific requirement of the job. That was actually a concession made at the time… I thought maybe I’d missed a rowing back on that point, or a subsequent change, although not the sort of thing you could slip through Parliament unnoticed. Will check with the APPG. Thanks.

    • kerrymccarthy  On April 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm

      Looking at the BHA’s submission to the consultation it makes a number of assertions, eg.

      “The Equality Act 2010 contains significant contentious exceptions that exempt religious organisations from parts of the law, permitting potentially wide discrimination by those organisations against their employees and against service users, even when they are working under contract to provide public services.”

      “If the Bill is not amended to prevent religious groups discriminating in the provision of public services, we believe that relevant authorities will have difficulties in meeting their duties under Clause 68. Religious discrimination in public services, whether in employment, against service users, or by preferring religious groups over secular groups, will be damaging socially and economically to local areas. For example, if there is a religious test for receiving a service (something permitted under the Equality Act 2010), then the service will not be inclusive nor accessible to all people in the area. Similarly, if a group will only hire staff of their own religious denomination, only a minority of people in the area would ever be able to apply for a job, severely restricting economic opportunities and potentially leading to the appointment of less qualified staff, as has happened already in cases of which we know.”

  • kerrymccarthy  On April 27, 2011 at 1:19 am

    And Defra q? Remind me what topic it was, I do a lot of Defra stuff!

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