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The Government, Prevent, and Equality Impact Assessments: Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

25 AUGUST 2021

It seems odd that the government would refuse to conduct or publish equality impact assessments on its flagship counterextremism policy.


An equality impact assessment (“EIA”) is an assessment of any potential discriminatory effects of policies carried out by public bodies as part of the Public Sector Equality Duty. Ironically, for a policy that leans so heavily on the idea of duties of public bodies, there has been suspiciously little in the way of equality assessment of Prevent. 


I have read time and time again of Prevent advocates waxing lyrical on how the strategy has evolved, how it has integrated communities, and how it has changed society for the better. So, surely regular EIAs would be the best way to quieten those of us who have serious concerns about its implementation and formulation?


Apparently not. 


In response to a recent written question tabled by Sarah Owen MP, the government responded: “We have no plans to publish any EIAs pertaining to Prevent.”


Of course, EIAs are not technically legally required, so no laws are being broken per se, but the questions still remain:

  • Why won’t the government publish any EIAs on Prevent?
  • And what are they so afraid of?

Well, if you ignore a problem long enough, it could cease to exist or people eventually forget about it too. And if you don’t gather evidence on whether something is right or wrong, then there’s no evidence it’s good, but — more importantly in this case — there is also no data that specifically shows its negative consequences. 


At the end of last year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which operates independently from the government, published what was essentially an EIA on the hostile environment policy. It will not surprise anyone who knows anything about the hostile environment that the report was extremely critical of the government’s — in particular, the Home Office’s — attitude towards the Public Sector Equality Duty and agreed with many of the findings of the Windrush Review.


Whilst there may be a valid point for reducing bureaucratic obstacles, I doubt this can apply when said obstacles prevent discrimination. 


It is obviously not the case that the government has simply stopped carrying out EIAs as a simple search on GOV.UK reveals:

With regards to the stop and search reports, the government said: “The EIAs demonstrate the government’s compliance with the Public-Sector Equality Duty and are being published for transparency.”


So, if Prevent truly has evolved to consider valid criticisms and improve over time, then surely there will have been enough change to justify an equality impact assessment or even multiple assessments?


Surely the government would want to demonstrate how a policy that is often criticised for its discriminatory effects adheres to the Public Sector Equality?


What does the government fear?


Despite its many arguments to the contrary, the slightest bit of additional transparency would not devastate the country’s national security. If anything, increased transparency would go some way to lessening the suspicion and mistrust many have of Prevent — but only if transparency is a positive, not if transparency shows known Islamophobic effects or a heavy focus on areas with large Muslim populations. 


As much as the government and its allies denounce those of us who have called for wholesale reform, if not repeal, for being reluctant or afraid to embrace the strategy, I suspect that their refusal to publish any EIAs after 2011 shows that even the government knows that the transparency would expose how fundamentally unequal Prevent is.

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