Here we go again: equality impact assessment

July 17, 2015

The Summer Budget OOTLAR (Overview Of Tax Legislation And Rates) contains 124 pages, including 110 of TIINs (Tax Information and Impact Notes). They are signed off (on page 12) by David Gauke as containing “a reasonable view of the costs, benefits and impacts of the measures”

No, bear with me, it’s important.

Remember 2010, when the Fawcett Society took a judicial review against the coalition’s “Emergency” Budget? Although they were denied permission (mainly, as I understand it, on the grounds that the Budget had been debated by Parliament by the time the judicial review proceedings were launched and, as any law student knows, Parliament trumps judges).  However the Treasury were pretty much caught with their trousers down as regards conducting equality impact assessment of budget measures and promised to do better in future.

One of the “doing better” changes was to include reporting on equality explicitly in the TIINs that accompany any changes.  The equalities impact field in the TIIN is the only guarantee we have that the Minister responsible for making the decision has had the question of the public sector equality duty put before him or her at the moment of decision.

In that light… David Gauke’s view of what is a “reasonable” view of the equality impact doesn’t have a great deal in common with my own, shall we say?

Take for example page 24 of OOTLAR where there is the table of impacts for the changes to personal allowances. In the equalities impact field there are figures showing clearly that there are more lower paid women than men and more higher paid men than women. The public sector duty in the equalities act requires the government to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between those who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t. The equalities impact field of the TIIN is the government’s evidence it has done so: on this evidence it has noted the facts of inequality but given no consideration to advancement of opportunity.

Or look at page 27, which has the table of impacts for the reduction in corporation tax.  It is noted that by 2020-21 the change will give away an anticipated £2,475 million.  The equalities impact shows “changes to the CT rates affect corporate entities and therefore do not have equalities impacts” in spite of the fact that this single measure gives away an enormous chunk of the tax base, for an unquantified economic benefit of making the UK “more attractive as a destination to locate business activity.” They can probably get away with this, because the judicial review proceedings held that equality could be considered on a measure by measure basis rather than looking at the Budget as a whole.  But a bit of common sense and political nous might lead us to wonder whether that was a good decision, when consideration of whether a corporate tax cut is a priority over, say, tax credits for those in working poverty is left unaddressed.

Then there are the changes to inheritance tax: “the government has no evidence to suggest that the measure will have any significant adverse equalities impacts”. (p34) This is not the public sector equality duty and does not provide evidence that the government has paid “due regard” to the right issues. Does “due regard” require consideration of what evidence the government doesn’t have, but could reasonably acquire?

The “exploding head” moment for me came when I reached page 118: yes, the idea of HMRC having power of direct recovery from bank accounts is back!  And apparently “will not impact disproportionately on people with any of the legally protected characteristics” – so the government is confident it won’t be trying to take money directly from the bank accounts of people in mental distress or illness, are they?  We have been here before when HMRC thought they would only be using the power around 17,000 times a year and I suggested, well, in that case, why not limit the power so that it can ONLY be used 17,000 times a year?   So that they would have to prioritise the serious cases and not introduce mission creep.  And it would be used to recover debts from individuals, businesses and partnerships, so I suggested a three year trial of the power applying it only to non-natural persons, ie to companies and LLPs and the like, before they let it loose on the rest of us.  I observe that the current proposals are suggested to affect

 11,000 individuals (including self- employed taxpayers) and businesses a year.

And yet (look at the last field of the table of impacts) the power won’t affect small businesses?  I believe someone’s trousers are on fire.



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