Law centre assists complaints over exclusion of under-18 from Northern Ireland voucher scheme

Law centre assists complaints over exclusion of under-18 from Northern Ireland voucher scheme

Claire Kemp

A number of young people, assisted by the Children’s Law Centre (CLC), have formally complained to the Department for the Economy over the exclusion of under-18s from the high street voucher scheme.

The voucher scheme will see around 1.4 million people in Northern Ireland receive a pre-paid £100 card which can be spent in any brick-and-mortar store by the end of November, but under-18s have been excluded.

The complaints allege that the Department failed to publicly consult on the policy, including with those directly affected, and that it failed to carry out an equality impact assessment before making a decision.

The Children’s Law Centre and the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) previously submitted complaints that the Department had not equality tested the policy at all before making policy decisions to exclude under 18s.

The Department subsequently produced an equality screening document which concluded that the exclusion of under-18s had a “minor” impact and did not propose any remedial action or commit to a full equality impact assessment.

Claire Kemp, policy officer at the CLC, said: “This is a significant development and is the direct result of a number of failures by the Department for the Economy to comply with its own equality scheme.

“Had the Department consulted, and equality assessed the policy at the earliest possible stage, as it is supposed to, the negative impact of excluding children would have been highlighted and consideration for a more inclusive policy could have taken place.

“Equality screening should be carried out at the beginning of the process for a reason. It is there to highlight any negative impact on protected groups and ensure mitigating measures are put in place to avoid discrimination.

“It is not in the gift of decision makers or public bodies to disregard such an important step, or indeed to carry out their duties after the fact. The Equality Commission has also been clear that Covid-19 is no excuse for failing to abide by statutory equality duties.

“In any case, the High Street Voucher Scheme has been in development for close to a year now and it was only after we lodged a complaint with the Department that they carried out an equality screening, completing it just days before the scheme is scheduled to go live. There has also been no consultation with young people or mitigation to negate the adverse impact on under-18s.

“This policy has not been rushed, yet fundamental steps to avoid discriminating against protected groups, including young people, have been ignored or delayed to the extent of rendering them meaningless. The Department for the Economy is clearly in breach of its equality scheme.”

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