Former EHRC staffer claims the equalities watchdog is ‘colluding’ with the Tories over race and gender

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A former senior staff member of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) accused the organisation of suppressing discussion on race. She made the allegation during an employment tribunal. On top of this, she also claimed that the commission is now an “agent of the Conservative government”.

EHRC ‘colluded’ with the Tories

Preeti Kathrecha was a senior associate of the EHRC, and race-protected characteristic lead until 2021. She is now suing the organisation for racial discrimination and unfair dismissal. In a statement she made public via a crowdfunding page, Kathrecha said the EHRC “vilified, silenced and punished” her for “speaking up about race”, and that her continued attempts to speak up about racism resulted in work-related stress.

Kathrecha added that the EHRC was “colluding” with the Conservative Party to deny the existence of systemic and institutional racism. In particular, structural racism was downplayed in the commission’s reports on higher education, the Metropolitan Police, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, she accused the organisation of partisan attitudes towards more than just race. In a statement to the employment tribunal, Kathrecha said:

The commission, which was supposed to be independent and impartial on race and other forms of discrimination, was politicised on some areas, such as race (and, more recently, the trans debate).

By politicised I mean that the board increasingly acted as an agent of the Conservative government and against parties or organisations which the government were opposed to, or were in conflict with, rather than impartially and independently, and in accordance with its statutory duties … It is being used as a political weapon in a cultural race war.

The Canary has covered ongoing criticism of the watchdog’s position on trans people. This included allegations of transphobia against its chair, Kishwer Falkne,r and the EHRC’s attempts to redefine the legal definition of ‘sex’.

Read on...

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Denial of institutional racism

When she quit in 2021, the Guardian reported that Kathrecha had described the EHRC’s actions as “racial gaslighting”. She expanded on this in her tribunal statement. The Guardian reported on 1 October that, while Kathrecha had found “clear objective evidence of structural and institutional racism” during an inquiry into health and social care, the watchdog told her that there “would never be a finding made on these terms”.

In her public statement, she added that:

The EHRC “began to deny the existence of ‘institutional racism’ as an objective fact, and to outlaw such findings in its reports”, placing pressure on staff to do the same.

This culture of ignoring race issues was allegedly inherent within the workplace, too. She told the tribunal that while the organisation provided “empathy, compassion and… support” for the “mostly white” female staff following Sarah Everard’s murder, it didn’t do the same for Black and Brown staff following the murder of George Floyd.

As a result, in her 2021 resignation letter, Kathrecha wrote:

Not only am I experiencing structural and institutional racism, I also have to try to fight it, all while the government and now the EHRC tell me that it doesn’t exist.

Antisemitism and Islamophobia

One particularly explosive admission by Kathrecha concerned the EHRC’s handling of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The report, published in October 2020, said it found the party under Jeremy Corbyn was guilty of “unlawful acts of discrimination and harassment” towards Jewish members.

Kathrecha didn’t disagree with the commission’s findings. However, she said its choice to focus on this issue over others was politically motivated:

In my claim I also comment that politics was behind the decision to investigate alleged antisemitism allegations in the Labour party but not those of Islamophobia within the Conservative party, despite there being greater evidence of the latter, nor – until after the 2019 general election – whether the Home Office unlawfully discriminated against the Windrush generation.

We asked for a cross-party inquiry into racism within political parties but were ignored. “Although there was evidence of racism in the Labour party, it was found to be far more pervasive in the Home Office (but we ignored it) and was said to be far more pervasive in the Conservative party (but we ignored it),”.

The EHRC dropped a planned investigation of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party in May 2020. The Tories had announced they were launching their own independent investigation of the issue, leading the EHRC to state that its own inquiry wouldn’t be proportionate.

The Muslim Council of Britain said at the time that the move was a “facade”. When the Conservative Party published its report in May 2021, it allegedly found no evidence of institutional racism in the party.

Not the first critic of the EHRC

The latest allegations against the EHRC likely come as a surprise to absolutely nobody. Back in 2021, former head of the EHRC David Isaac voiced similar criticisms. Isaac, who was Falkner’s predecessor, said the government was pressuring the commission to administer its ideology.

Meanwhile, the organisation has faced criticism for its appointment of a new disabilities lead. Disability News Service reported that Kevin Shinkwin was the second Tory peer in a row to hold the position.

Bert Massie, who headed up the Disability Rights Commission before it was folded into the EHRC, and who then become an ENRC commissioner, said Shinkwin wasn’t the strongest candidate. As a result, Massie added, it made the appointment “look political” and described that as “a worry”.

In February 2022, a coalition of more than 20 LGBTQ+ groups called for the EHRC to lose its ‘A status’. They claimed the body was no longer independent from the government or “fit for purpose as a National Human Rights Institution”.

Kathrecha’s latest allegations support that claim, building the body of evidence against the watchdog. As such, the end of her tribunal on 24 October could be a major blow against the organisation.

Featured image via Logovectorseek

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