Nicola Brewer: head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

The task facing the new Equality and Human Rights Commission is so huge it needs a very dynamic person at its helm.

The commission has embraced an all encompassing role – to not just influence policy and defend the marginalised, but facilitate a wholesale change of attitudes and cultures. Despite the enormity of the task ahead, Nicola Brewer (pictured left), the commission’s chief executive, seems unfazed.

“I’ve worked on international human rights issues in several jobs,” she says, highlighting her roles as director general for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and as director general for regional programmes at the Department for International Development. “In two of my recent jobs I’ve merged large bits of very large organisations.”

Brewer had only been in the job for seven months before the new commission went live last October. In that time she had to create the new organisation from scratch – she describes it as a mixture of a “start up and a merger” – and change cultures.

Top team

The top team is in place but it is still recruiting more junior staff 370 employees came from the original three commissions, which “helps to give assurance to the commitment we’ve made to building on their legacies”.

One of the key priorities for the business plan is to “change policy and organisational practice to provide better public services alongside an efficient and dynamic economy”. It sounds commendable, but where do you start?

“We want to work with both the private and public sectors,” says Brewer. “We will talk to public bodies about how you embed one approach and talk to the people the services will have an impact on. We’re trying to get examples of where people have done that to deliver better services.”

Using real life case studies is a theme Brewer returns to several times. She thinks individual stories are the best way to influence policy and change ingrained attitudes.

“Some of those individual cases can have a big impact,” she says. “By making the link between a big strategic objective and the personal story of an individual you help people to say ‘that could be my granny’.”

New area

While saying social care is “a new area for me”, she sees the social care agenda as “essential to what we’re trying to do”.

She wants to influence government strategy to promote independence and keep it focused on the principles care services minister Ivan Lewis has set out: control and personalisation.

Her aims include clarifying the law moving from compensation claims to prevention focusing on the gender pay gap and creating a single quality rating for all six areas in the commission’s domain.

She bats away questions about an early embarrassment for the commission when it did not having its own equality scheme for staff in place by a January deadline, saying it was simply not possible to complete it in time. “We now have a scheme in place,” she adds.

Brewer has many things to do. “One of the things I want established is an organisation that’s genuinely accessible and authoritative. A success for the commission would be when difference is seen as a strength, and the commission is seen as an institution that people in Britain are proud to have.”

 Equality and Human Rights Commission

Key responsibilities

The EHRC was created from the Disability Rights Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

● The three former commissions criticised a green paper reviewing discrimination law published last year because it watered down duties on public bodies to promote race, disability and gender equality. The EHRC was also concerned, but Brewer says the government has listened.

● The EHRC is responsible for promoting equality in six areas: race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religious belief and gender reassignment, as well as promoting human rights in England, Scotland and Wales. It will publish its proposed reforms in November.

Published in the 3 July issue of Community Care under the headline ‘Rights On’

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