1. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) conducted a Section 31 Assessment of Her Majesty’s Treasury’s 2010 Spending Review to assess to what extent and in what manner HM Treasury complied with the race, disability and gender equality duties in place during the 2010 Spending Review process and took into account differences in the potential impact of proposed spending and policy changes by protected groups. As part of the Assessment, the EHRC commissioned the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) to provide a technical assessment of the extent to which differential impacts could have been examined and, for four Spending Review policies, to review evidence on potential differential impacts. This report presents the findings.
2. The first part of the report analyses HMT’s general approach to impact assessment. In respect of protected groups, the assessment was qualitative. While containing some useful information, it lacked detail. In contrast, HMT took a much more comprehensive and systematic quantitative approach to analysing the distributional impacts of the Spending Review by income decile and quintile.
3. We considered whether a similar approach would have been possible for the protected groups. Our analysis suggests that a quantitative assessment of Spending Review impacts on protected groups would have faced a number of challenges. Inevitably, such an analysis would have had limitations in methodological terms and coverage. Nonetheless, the task would have been feasible insofar as the required data was available and would have allowed, at least, an exploratory but systematic examination and estimation of impacts on protected groups.
4. In the second part, the report surveys HMT’s published analysis of the impact on protected groups in relation to Spending Review decisions to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), introduce a Pupil Premium, remove financial ring-fencing of Sure Start, and extend Early Years Education (EYE) to disadvantaged 2-year olds. As above, the published assessment was found to be a limited qualitative comment on the possible impacts.
5. Our analysis proceeded to survey existing evidence on possible equality impacts of changes to these four policies. This found robust evidence indicating likely negative impacts of the withdrawal of EMA, with females and ethnic minority students likely to be most affected. We cannot comment on the impact on disabled students due to insufficient data. While the effect of introducing a Pupil Premium depends largely on how schools choose to use the extra funding, this should generally have a positive impact on educational attainment. This is expected to benefit ethnic minority pupils, while further analysis of the National Pupil Dataset should shed light on the impact on gender and disability. Similarly, the impacts of Sure Start funding changes will largely depend on how local authorities will respond to the overall reduction in central government funding. We suspect that the austerity measures will reduce incentives to local authorities to retain Sure Start at current levels. This, in turn, should adversely impact on protected groups, particularly women, while impacts on ethnic minorities and disabled are more difficult to evaluate. In contrast, we expect that the extension of EYE to two-year olds will have a positive impact on protected groups, primarily through the benefits to mothers and possibly ethnic minority and disabled children.
6. Our analysis concluded that while the evidence was not always available or conclusive, it would have been possible to produce a more comprehensive assessment of the impact of these spending decisions on women, ethnic minorities and disabled individuals. In many cases, this would have been possible by relying exclusively on official evaluation documents and simple tabulations from Department for Education datasets.
7. The high levels of uncertainty associated with the equality impacts of most of the policy changes addressed here point to the need for careful monitoring of impacts as these changes are being implemented. Notably, new policies should be carefully evaluated not only with respect to their general impact and cost-effectiveness, but also their equality impacts in the medium- and long-term.