Quality and Equality: Human Rights, Public Services and Religious Organisations
Report Launch: Proposed public service reforms risk discrimination against employees and service users and negative effects on social cohesion
The British Humanist Association (BHA) today [28/11/07] announces the launch of a major new report into the contracting out of public services to religious organisations. The launch of the report is being supported by the TUC and its conclusions endorsed by public figures including Lord Warner, former minister at the Department of Health.
The report’s findings demonstrate that there is no evidence that religious organisations offer any distinctive benefits to the supply and provision of public services and actually that the Government’s clear policy objective of expanding the role of religious organisations within the public services runs the risk of lowering standards, increasing inequalities, introducing ‘parallel services’ and damaging social cohesion.
The research warns of the dangers of discrimination against staff not protected by Employment Equality Regulations pertaining to religion or belief or sexual orientation because of the exemptions that religious organisations have from equality legislation, and of potential barriers to accessing public services for the general public.
Hanne Stinson, BHA Chief Executive, said ‘We are publishing Quality and Equality to draw attention to our concerns about the current policy to make religion a central feature in the provision and delivery of a wide range of public services. Through the report, we want to make clear our position that the most fair and most inclusive services – for service users of all faiths and none – are secular services. The report sets out the problems for employees and service users, the risks of discrimination and inequality, the damage to social cohesion and the infringements on human rights, which will arise from the Government’s policy of contracting out public services to religious organisations. We are calling on the Government to address these concerns.’
Polly Toynbee, President of the BHA, said ‘It cannot be right that any provider of public services is permitted by law to discriminate in employment policies or in the manner in which it provides statutory, state funded public services.’
Quality and Equality calls for secular and inclusive services and recommends a more transparent tendering process for religious organisations contracted into public service supply and delivery. In addition, it highlights the need for legislative change to ensure that organisations providing public services:
could not discriminate between service users on grounds of ‘religion or belief’, or on any other grounds;
must respect the human rights of service users;
have equality-based employment policies, so that no one is privileged for a position because of her/his religion or belief, her/his sexual orientation, or on any other irrelevant ground.