9 DEMONSTRATING THE IMPACT ON EQUALITY OF POLICIES AND SERVICES
9.1 The consultation document recognised that undertaking equality impact assessments ( EQIAs) and publishing the results can help to demonstrate that the impact of policies and services on equality has been considered and account taken. However, the document also recognised that a wide reaching requirement in this area could be time consuming, detract from the focus on key issues and, if not done well, be ineffective.
9.2 Respondents were asked to consider how equality impact assessment can best meet the needs of communities and assist public authorities in the delivery of their responsibilities. Questions 23-26 sought views about what requirements should be placed on public authorities in relation to demonstrating the impact of equality on their policies and services.
Question 23 - considering the impact of equality
9.3 The first question in this section asked: 'Do you think public authorities should be required to demonstrate how they have considered the impact of equality on their policies and services?'
Chart 9.1 Question 23 (Base 160)
9.4 Almost three-quarters, 73% (117 respondents) said 'yes', public authorities should be required to demonstrate how they have considered the impact of equality on their policies and services; 3% (5 respondents) said 'no', 2% said 'don't know'. Eight percent did not give a definitive answer and 14% did not reply; 22% in total did not provide an answer to the 'tick box' options. There were no notable differences across respondent groups.
9.5 Thirty-four percent (54 respondents) gave reasons for supporting this requirement. In addition, 16% (26 respondents) simply said that they agree. The main reason given for support was that impact assessment is a basic requirement or important tool that ensures authorities meet current equalities legislation, do not discriminate, and direct services and resources appropriately (36 respondents). Eleven respondents said that they would support a specific duty on public authorities in this regard, as this would show they have considered the impact of their policies and services on equality.
Focus on actions or impacts
9.6 Almost a quarter (23% or 36 respondents, including 3 who answered 'no') commented on the need to focus on actions or impacts with 16 commenting that outcomes, rather than processes are important. Ten said that there is a need for routine assessment of the impact of policies and services on equality and that the findings should be acted on. These respondents felt that this would be more useful than developing rarely used procedures or getting bogged down in procedure. A respondent from the education group commented, "Considering the impact of decisions and policies on equality groups is valuable but there must be less emphasis on paperwork and more on the action required to ensure fairness."
Need for support
9.7 Comments in 19% of responses (31 respondents, including 2 who said 'no') mentioned the need for some form of support, including guidance, training and/or tools. For example a misc. public authority respondent felt that:
"the duty would provide more value if it included guidance on incorporating impact assessment into policy development and decision-making processes. Guidance on the most appropriate stage of the policy or decision-making process for impact assessment to be conducted would also be valuable."
Need for flexibility or proportionality
9.8 Fifteen percent (24 respondents, mainly from the local authority and education groups) asked that flexibility be allowed or proportionality applied. This topic was noted in almost half (48%, 11 out of 23) of responses from the local authority group. The main theme, mentioned in 12 responses, was that consideration should be given to an authority's size and available resources.
Need to assess all aspects of work or to mainstream
9.9 One in ten (10% or 16 respondents, half of whom were from the equality group) commented on the need to assess all aspects of work or to mainstream equality. Six, mostly from the equality group, added that consultation and involvement should be an integral element of assessing the impact of policies and services. However, one equality respondent had concerns:
"The proposals do not make clear what role consultation and involvement should play in assessing the impact of policies and services. Not all of the protected characteristics have the same amount of infrastructure or capacity to support consultation and involvement in an organisation's impact assessment of policies."
Question 24 - equality impact assessment
9.10 The consultation went on to ask: 'Do you think a public authority should only be required to demonstrate equality impact assessment of key policies and services?'
Chart 9.2 Question 24 (Base 160)
9.11 Opinions were divided with 38% (60 respondents) saying that they should and 28% (44 respondents) saying that they should not; 11% said 'don't know' and 24% did not reply. This division is also apparent in a significant difference between responses from across the various groups of public authorities (46%, 46 out of 100, 'yes') and other respondents (23%, 14 out of 60 'yes').
9.12 The following table shows the breakdown of responses by respondent groups. There was a significant difference between responses from the equality group (18%, or 6 out of 34, 'yes') and both the local authority group (52%, 12 out of 23, 'yes') and the education group (54%, 19 out of 35, 'yes').
Table 9.1 Responses to question 24 by respondent group
Misc. public authority
9.13 Fourteen percent (23 respondents) made general comments welcoming the proposal to demonstrate equality impact assessment of key policies and services, a respondent from the police/fire group said, "The existing requirement to EIA [equality impact assess] all policies is unrealistic and overly bureaucratic."
9.14 Other responses contained more specific reasons for agreement or disagreement; these are discussed in the following paragraphs.
Comments on 'key'
9.15 In over a quarter (28% or 45 respondents) of responses there were comments on the use of the word 'key'. This was one of the main themes noted in responses from those who said 'no'; 43% of those who disagreed at this question included comments on this subject.
9.16 Seventeen respondents said that 'key' is too subjective a term, it is difficult to define what constitutes key and that a clear definition is needed. Sixteen respondents asked for guidance on defining 'key'. Six said that authorities should not be left to decide what is 'key'; some felt this could water down the impact of the duty, a respondent from the police/fire group said:
"It is not clear from the consultation document what would constitute a key service or policy. It would be detrimental to the general duty if key service or policy was defined as a major or strategic service or policy. It may be more appropriate to define services and policies as relevant for equality impact assessment if they impact upon people. It may be simpler to determine relevance of a policy as 'does it impact on people?'"
Importance of proportionality or relevance
9.17 In 31% (50 respondents), there were comments on the importance of proportionality or relevance, including this comment from a respondent in the 'other' group: "Public authorities may have hundreds of policies and services. Requiring EQIAs on a rural Scottish College's policy on trade with the developing world, for instance, would not be a cost-effective use of public money". This was the key area of focus in responses from those who answered 'yes' (48% of these responses contained comments on these topics).
9.18 The main type of comment, noted in 28 responses many of whom were in the education group, was the need to focus on what is proportionately important, some mentioned high impact policies and outcomes.
9.19 Fourteen respondents, 7 from the education group, pointed out that impact assessments can be too onerous, overly bureaucratic and time consuming and can take the focus away from key issues.
9.20 Eleven respondents, including 5 from the equality group, saw a need to adopt a proportionate and practical approach. A respondent from the misc. public authority group commented, "A reasonable and practical approach should be followed. Excessive reporting will detract from implementation. "
All aspects should be included and/or considered
9.21 However, 21% (34 respondents) felt that all, not just 'key', aspects should be included and/or considered. Over half, 59%, of those who said 'no' gave this as their reason, including a respondent from the 'other' group who said:
"We would ideally want all policies and services to be assessed in a holistic way as part of the regular planning process. Short of that, we much prefer the use of the term 'relevant' which is the way the race equality duty is framed. Ideally, if genuine mainstreaming is the goal, then all services and policies should go through some form of EQIA."
9.22 Nineteen respondents felt that all services and policies should be assessed and that this should include any new activities; some asked that a simplified impact assessment be introduced to help implement this.
9.23 A comprehensive approach to ensure consistency and overall coverage with assessments considered at all levels and for all functions was requested by 15 respondents, including 10 from the equality group.
Other comments on question 24
9.24 One other main theme which emerged at this question was the need for guidance and/or assistance to be provided to authorities (13 respondents). A respondent from the education group suggested, "We would suggest that it may be helpful for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to produce guidance on impact assessment best practice."
Question 25 - provision of information on impact
9.25 The consultation asked respondents: 'What information should a public body be asked to provide or publish to demonstrate that consideration has been given to the impact on equality of key proposals, policies or services?' Seventy-six per cent (121 respondents) replied; there were no notable differences in opinion across respondent groups at this question.
Publishing impact assessment information
9.26 Almost half (44% or 71 respondents) commented on specific information that should be published, and how this should be presented. This included 34% (54 respondents) who said EQIAs of key proposals, policies and services should be made available; 12 mentioned these should be made available on-line.
9.27 Nine, including 5 from the equality group, said that everything should be published in an accessible format to Scottish Accessible Information Forum ( SAIF) guidelines.
Comments on content
9.28 Almost two-thirds (63% or 101 respondents) commented on other information that authorities could be asked to provide and 52 felt that they should include whether impact assessments have led to any changes in actions and on the resulting outcomes. A respondent from the equality group said, "We see little point in completing an exercise of this kind if - where negative impact is found - mitigating measures are not at once set in place."
9.29 Forty respondents wanted to see authorities provide their action plans, along with associated timescales.
9.30 Twenty-two respondents, including 10 from the equality group, requested progress reports, and information on monitoring and reviewing processes.
9.31 Thirteen wanted to see authorities publish summaries of EQIAs, one added, "A statement which says that the full impact assessment is available on request" (local authority).
Other comments on question 25
9.32 One other main theme emerged at question 26 and this involved the need to provide information on consultation and/or communication with relevant stakeholders and partner bodies, some also commented that this should be allied to sound data collection (36 respondents). A respondent from the equality group suggested:
"Information should be provided on how the public authorities have involved equality groups, particularly disabled people, on key proposals, policies and services. Information should include a list of who has been consulted/involved, how the involvement took place and what difference this made to the proposals, policies and services."
Question 26 - taking action on issues identified through impact assessment
9.33 Finally, in this section, respondents were asked, 'Should public authorities be required to take action in response to issues identified through impact assessment?'
Chart 9.3 Question 26 (Base 160)
9.34 Over two-thirds (68% or 109 respondents) said 'yes', 8% (13 respondents) said 'no', 2% said 'don't know'. Three percent did not give a definitive answer and 19% did not reply; 22% in total did not provide an answer to the 'tick box' options. There were no significant differences across respondent groups.
9.35 Over a third (38% or 60 respondents) used the comment box to reiterate their support. These respondents said they agree that public authorities should be required to take action in response to issues identified; some said it is vital that EQIAs lead to real change and are not just a paper exercise while others said there is little point in conducting EQIAs if negative impacts are not dealt with.
9.36 Fourteen percent (23 respondents) simply said 'yes' or that they agree.
Need to be relevant and/or proportionate
9.37 The need for authorities to take action where this is relevant, or the need for proportionality, featured in 21% (34 respondents, including 3 who answered 'no'). Twenty-seven of these respondents felt that authorities need to be allowed to prioritise due to conflicting demands on resources; this included a respondent from the education group who said:
"The point of impact assessment is to take action, but authorities must have the opportunity to prioritise, and to say what they can do to make reasonable adjustment, as they are all constrained by conflicting resource demands. It is critical that they have the right to decide where they can make most impact, and not that there should be an expectation they should automatically take action in response to every issue identified via impact assessment."
Need to include monitoring, implementation and/or outcomes
9.38 As well as being required to take action, 18% (28 respondents) felt that authorities should be required to report on what actions have been taken and how these have been monitored. An equality respondent commented, "They should be further required to indicate whether they identified a need for remedial action, what action they took and how they monitored the impact of the changes. They should also be required to indicate how they will monitor the impact of the policy over time. " Five of the 13 respondents who answered 'no' made similar points.
Other comments on question 26
9.39 Other comments included:
- the need for authorities to provide justification for any actions they have not taken (11 respondents);
- that legislation is not needed in this area (10, including 7 who said 'no');
- the need to consider cost or resource implications, including time (8).
Demonstrating the Impact on Equality of Policies and Services - Summary:
The majority of respondents (73%, 117 respondents) agreed that public authorities should be required to demonstrate how they have considered the impact of equality on their policies and services.
The majority (68% or 109 respondents) also agreed that public authorities should be required to take action in response to issues identified through impact assessment. However, opinion was divided over whether a public authority should only be required to demonstrate equality impact assessment of key policies and services; 38% (60 respondents) said that they should and 28% (44 respondents) said that they should not.
Thirty-four percent (54 respondents) wanted to see EQIAs of key proposals, services and policies made available. They wanted to see authorities demonstrate any changes leading from assessments and the outcomes from these changes.
The main topics mentioned throughout this section related to:
- a need to focus on actions or impacts;
- a need for support, guidance, training or tools, especially relating to how authorities should demonstrate they have considered the impact of equality;
- a need for flexibility, this was noted in many responses from the local authority group, the need for assessment and action to be carried out where relevant or proportionate;
- a need to focus on what is important or relevant such as high impact policies, many education group respondents included this comment;
- that authorities be allowed to prioritise, to take action where relevant or proportionate;
- the need to assess or consider all, not just 'key' aspects of an authority's work, many from the equality group included similar comments.
Over a quarter of respondents commented on the use of the term 'key'. Some asked that this be defined while others felt it too subjective.
Respondents felt authorities should report on any changes made following assessment, how their actions are implemented and monitored, and the outcomes from any actions.