Weekly Poll – Public Sector Equality Duty: Assessing and Reviewing Policies and Practices (Week Beginning 28 March 2022)

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 28 March 2022, we asked a question about the review of the Public Sector Equality Duty in Scotland.

Results

Question.  Do you think the actions that are being proposed will help to improve the process for assessing and reviewing policies and practices?

  • Yes – 75% (30 respondents)
  • No – 25% (10 respondents)

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Assessing and Reviewing Policies and Practices

Within the Equality Act 2010 sits the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which is a duty on public authorities such as an NHS hospital, a state school or the police to embed and promote equality throughout their processes. The Scottish Government is currently reviewing the PSED in Scotland. One of the key proposals featured in the review of the PSED is to adjust the duty to assess and review policies and practices.

At present, public authorities must review and assess policies to consider the impact it will have on relevant protected characteristics, including age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. However, the Scottish Government recognise impact assessments are often carried out too late, with some taking place after the policy is in place. They also note that impact assessments can sometimes use little evidence or involve limited engagement of people with lived experience.

Therefore, the Scottish Government are proposing to adjust the duty to assess and review policies and practices to ensure that assessments must be undertaken as early as possible in the policy development process. They also state that public authorities would be required to conduct assessments with direct involvement from people with lived experience, or organisations who represent them, including disabled people and disabled people’s organisations. Public authorities would be required to report on how they have met this duty through case studies and examples.

Equality Impact Assessments

One of the main tools to help public bodies meet their duties under the PSED are Equality Impact Assessments (EQIAs). This is a process by which public bodies can assess the impact that a policy or practice is having on different groups of people.

Respondents recognised that assessments are often carried out too late in the policy development process, with some being undertaken after the policy has been implemented. As such, respondents believed that EQIAs must be a mandatory requirement that is completed at the earliest possible stage.

“The review should be mandated to take place before any policy or practices are put in place. The results of the review should be published prior to the policy being finalised. If any objections or concerns are raised by the review, it should be mandated that the steps taken to mitigate, or why the objections were ignored are published. There must be a process in place for those negatively affected/disadvantaged by a new or amended policy/procedure to raise concerns and have these appropriately addressed under the Equality Act once a new policy/procedure is in place. This would have stopped Glasgow City Council turning Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow into a no-go area for visually impaired and blind people!”

“I think the proposal should be a mandatory requirement to bring the lived-experience voice into the process at the formative stage and go further to say that all existing policies and procedures must be reviewed to bring them into line. They are indeed usually an afterthought, often after a reminder from the unions that it’s a legal requirement.”

“Publicising details of assessments and reviews is key here. One of the main issues with most consultations is that they are poorly communicated and often not accessible. I’ve lost track of how many “consultations” don’t even attempt to make reasonable adjustments and have such a short response time that it is often too late to contribute.”

Lived Experience

There was recognition from respondents of the limited use of evidence, or engagement with disabled people when assessing and reviewing policies and practices. As such, respondents strongly agreed with the proposal to require the involvement of people with lived experience or organisations who represent them during the assessment process. However, it was noted that public bodies must conduct meaningful engagement and seriously consider the views of people with lived experiences to avoid the assessment procedure being viewed as tokenistic.

“Prioritise the engagement of organisations run by and for people with the relevant experience(s) and protected characteristic(s). Where one or more such organisation exists, consultation should not be limited to representative-only organisations.”

“All policies should be written from an inclusive perspective. These proposals should bypass a committee of people who have the knowledge or lived experience to demonstrate potential impact on a particular section of society. Obviously, this will not be an easy task and there will always be a situation where not everyone will be pleased. However, any objections could be noted and discussed, and a decision made on the majority vote.”

“It’s not just a case of letting people with lived experiences make their comment, their experiences and comments have to be considered seriously when any changes are being designed. Some meetings have previously taken place involving people with lived experiences, but they then felt their experiences and comments were essentially ignored, giving the impression their part was considered irrelevant.”

“People with lived experience need to be involved in co-design and co-production rather than tokenistic involvement.”

At Disability Equality Scotland, we are the umbrella body for Access Panels, which are made up of groups of disabled people working in local communities across the country to improve the accessibility of streets, paths, buildings, transport and wider social inclusion for disabled people. It is essential for public bodies to meaningfully engage with Disabled People’s Organisations and Access Panels across Scotland. More information about Access Panels can be found on the Access Panel Network website: www.accesspanel.scot

Training and Resources

When reflecting on the additional factors that will help to improve the process of assessing and reviewing policies and practices, respondents suggested providing support to people with lived experience through training and resources. It was also highlighted that people with lived experience who contribute to an Equality Impact Assessment must be suitably recognised and rewarded.

“In some areas it is proving hard to reach people with lived experience, it would be necessary to support people to develop skills of engagement in being part of a consultation. More support to develop peer support and ambassadors from early age to build a larger group of people willing and able to contribute to equality impact assessments.”

“Provide training / information for people new to the EQIA process about how it works. Pay people for their time and expertise, with the option to refuse payment e.g., if it would affect benefit eligibility, or to provide vouchers where requested (not as a default option), or to make a donation to a relevant charity for the hours’ labour provided.”

In addition, respondents noted that public bodies must provide staff with appropriate training and resources in how to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment.

“Proper training of people performing impact assessments should be enforced and audited – the number of times I have tried to deal with people about my disability whose knowledge is five minutes on google and they are now experts who can determine what I need is frightening. If these people run impact assessments, they won’t be able to accurately determine what is required when dealing with people with special needs.”

“The idea and desire are good, but it is hard to believe there will be sufficiently good training in place to build the necessary awareness and understanding among those doing the implementing. We really must keep trying to build knowledge and skill levels among decision makers and implementers. We need to ensure it is broad and deep knowledge – and does not slip into addressing only the things easier and quick to fix because that leads to tokenism and the public sector believing or giving the impression that they’re improving things when they’re not, except in really marginal small ways.”

Scope of Policy Assessment

With regards to the range of policies that should be assessed and reviewed, respondents believed that it is important for disabled people to be involved as much as possible, beyond strategic level decisions. This viewpoint is reflective of the perceived lack of engagement with disabled people in the existing policy assessment process.

“The glib answer to what policies should be assessed and reviewed is all of them. Disabilities affect every aspect of life and so will affect every policy.”

“This should not just apply to new policies; we must also make sure that all existing policies and procedures are continually reviewed.”

“I think all policies and procedures must be assessed with all protected characteristics in mind. There are too many examples of policies and practices that have clearly failed to consider the lived experiences of disabled people.”

Conclusion

The majority of respondents (75%) believed the proposals featured in the review of the Public Sector Equality Duty will help to improve the process for assessing and reviewing policies and practices. There was recognition that Equality Impact Assessments are currently conducted too late in the policy development process, which reduces the prospect of meaningful engagement with disabled people. As such, respondents strongly welcomed the proposal to conduct assessments with the involvement of people with lived experience, including Disabled People’s Organisations and Access Panels. To achieve this, it is important to provide appropriate guidance and resources to both the individuals who are taking part, as well as for staff who are conducting the assessment. In terms of the range of policies that should be assessed, respondents believed that this should be as wide as possible and go beyond the proposal that states it only occur in certain circumstances, where the policy being assessed is a strategic level decision.