Effective equality policies at the local level

Speech given by FRA Director Morten Kjaerum at Equality summit: Promoting Equality at the local and regional level on 14 November in Warsaw.
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Effective Equality Policies At The Local Level.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,
In fundamental rights terms, equality means that each individual is able to
exercise their rights and enjoy the same level of dignity. Key components are
access to education, health, housing and employment.
These are the four keys that unlock human potential and open the door to a
better quality of life. And to a large degree, those keys are held by local
authorities who are responsible for running our schools and hospitals, and
who play a significant role in regulating housing and providing local
employment.
In this time of economic crisis, those who are already on the fringes of society
risk having the door to social inclusion closed on them. This is in part because
the public services that the most vulnerable in our communities depend on are
reduced. But we should not fail to recognise that the price of social exclusion
is also high. And we should recognise that the consequences of inequality and
exclusion have to be faced largely by local authorities: increasing rates of
crime, growing social tensions, homelessness, deprived neighbourhoods.
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Today I would like to put forward what I see as key elements of an effective
equality policy for the local level, based on leadership, inclusion and
cooperation at local, national and European levels.
Turning to the first element,
1). Local authorities must take leadership for equality.
• Firstly, by making a clear public commitment to equality. Human rights
action plans are not just for national authorities. Local action plans to
promote inclusion and combat discrimination send a clear message that
authorities are serious about promoting equality. And local action plans
can ensure a sustainable and coordinated approach across local
services.
• Secondly, they take leadership by adopting internal anti-discrimination
measures. This should cover not only public employees but also form
part of contractual obligations on private companies involved in public
procurement.
• Thirdly, they take leadership by championing diversity through public
statements and raising awareness of the benefits of an inclusive
society. Here public authorities can draw inspiration from business
leaders who understand very well the commercial value of ensuring that
their employees are as diverse as the public they serve. Let me quote
one employer whom the agency interviewed as part of its research:
“We are seeking to attract and employ the most talented people. It’s a
talent-based business case for us. We recognise there are many
talented people from all walks of life. We know that there is a direct link
between that talent and our balance sheet.

Turning to my next point,
2). Local authorities must be in a position to measure equality and detect
inequality. In order to combat exclusion and inequality, service delivery has to
be inclusive. And this means that local authorities need to know if the diversity
of their communities is reflected in the diversity of their service users.
How can they do this?
• Firstly, by using locally collected statistics to monitor inclusion. Local
authorities hold a great deal of data – school enrolments, visits to
hospitals, unemployment figures, numbers of people using social
housing. But not all of this is looked at in terms of equality.
Understanding these statistics through the lens of diversity is the first
step to promoting inclusion. It is only by knowing who is
overrepresented among early school leavers, or unemployment figures,
that authorities can understand who they are reaching and who is left at
the margins of society.
• Secondly, they can do it by regularly checking the impact of diversitybased
policies on these statistics. This can include introducing
benchmarks for frontline services, and the use of fundamental rights
indicators to analyse progress over time. The Fundamental Rights
Agency itself is currently developing such indicators which it would be
happy to share with national and local authorities.
• And thirdly, they can do it by setting up local complaints mechanisms,
such as a municipal equality office. The agency’s research in the area
of access to justice highlights the benefits of easily accessible and
informal procedures. These allow individuals to enforce their right to
equal treatment more quickly and easily than going through the courts,
and much closer to home. They also allow local authorities to identify
where changes in policy may be needed.

With this I move on to my third point - cooperation,
3). When delivering services local authorities work in partnership with other
organisations at regional and municipal level. By forging these relations into
local coalitions for equality they can ensure that their communities
experience diversity-based services that are coherent, consistent and mutually
supportive. For example:
• Working with schools to combat bullying and prevent early school
leaving.
• Working with police to combat hate speech and hate crime.
• Or working with healthcare services, to support community based care
for persons with disabilities.

4). And my final point. The agency is currently working with local, regional and
national authorities to develop a joined-up approach to fundamental rights
implementation. Our work so far underlines that to promote equality many
local governments will benefit from support from the national and the EU
levels.
• Firstly, national and European authorities play an important role in
facilitating mutual learning between local authorities. This can be done
either by collecting examples of good practice from across the Member
States to inspire local practical solutions, or by facilitiating direct
exchange between local authorities.
• Secondly, equality bodies and national human rights institutions may
assist local authorities by providing training to administrators and frontline
staff. They also play a role in giving guidance on what equality
means when it is applied to specific policy areas under local authority
control.
• Thirdly, national and European authorities also need to ensure that
European structural funds are directed to promoting equality at the local
level. For example, the recent proposal of the European Commission
revising the European Social Fund places an obligation on the Member
States and the European Commission to promote equal opportunities,
with a focus on accessibility for persons with disabilities. This is a
positive step. But could this obligation be broadened to expressly refer
to other groups in danger of social exclusion? Could it also be
introduced into future revision of the Regional Development Fund?

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Promoting equality means capturing diversity: reaching all groups in society
with public services; and reflecting all groups in the workforce. To achieve this,
local authorities must exercise leadership for change, and shape policies
around the inequalities that they measure. But even if local authorities hold
the keys to education, healthcare, housing and employment, they cannot open
the doors to equality without pulling together with other bodies at the local,
national and European levels.
Many thanks for your attention.