UK: Cuts to equality watchdog will harm hate crime victims MP warns

29/1/2017- Cuts to the UK's equality watchdog will make it harder to protect victims of hate crimes at a time when these have increased massively, an SNP Westminster frontbencher has warned. SNP MP Chris Stephens claims the cutbacks will limit the ability of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to stand up against racism at a time of rising anti-immigrant sentiment, in part due to the fall-out from the Brexit campaign. The EHRC is to have its funding reduced by 25 per cent during the next four years, with £17.4 million slashed from its budget by 2020. There will also be 26 jobs cut from the 148 permanent staff employed for the EHRC across its offices in Manchester, London and Cardiff and Glasgow. The bulk of the job losses are south of the Border, although campaigners say the cuts will lead to a reduced service across the UK.

Stephens said cutting the funding of a body, which aims to eliminate discrimination and promote human rights, made it more likely racial abuse would be "unchallenged" and would make victims of racism more vulnerable as figures show a spike in hate crime. Stephens believes the increase in hate crime was more likely to be due to the tensions of Brexit campaign, with its anti-immigrant overtones. Figures highlighted by the PCS union show a dramatic rise during 2015-16 across the UK, compared to the previous year. The figures record race hate crimes up 15 per cent, religious 34 per cent, sexual orientation up by 29 per cent, and disability by 44 per cent and transgender, at 41 per cent, almost doubling in the course of the year. Stephens, the SNP's trade union and workers' right spokesperson, said the cuts, which have already provoked strikes, would make it harder to protect victims of such abuse.

The Glasgow South West MP said: "These cuts will mean that the commission will not have the tools it needs to tackle discrimination and human rights abuses. It will result in victims of discrimination who don't qualify for legal aid or who can't afford tribunal fees coming to MPs for assistance. "The huge increase in hate crimes in 2015-16 makes it difficult to understand why the government would make such cuts at this time. The facts speak for themselves with hate crimes almost doubled overall this last year. "A lot of people have suggested this increase in hate crime is a result of the tone of the Brexit campaign," he said. Adding: "The ability of the commission to represent the victims of crime and human rights will be harmed by these cuts and if hate crime is left unchallenged these incidents of abuse could come to be seen as normal."

However, an EHRC spokesperson, in response, said it would take a firm stand against racism during the ongoing Brexit process despite the cuts. The spokesperson said: “We strongly resisted budget cuts at the highest levels but we believe the difficult changes we are making will ensure we can still deliver our ambitious programme. "For example, we have produced our biggest report on race, will soon be publishing the most comprehensive assessment ever of disability in Britain, and we will remain a robust and independent voice to protect people’s rights as we leave the European Union.” A UK Government spokesperson said: “We are continuing to support the important work of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC has undergone significant reforms since 2010 to increase its efficiency and despite a reduction in budget it maintains capacity to fulfil its duties to promote and protect equalities and human rights”
The Herald of Scotland

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