Voluntary sector umbrella bodies are alarmed about government plans to drop equalities impact assessments.
Yesterday, in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry in London, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said he intends to end the assessments, saying they were "bureaucratic nonsense", and are unnecessary to ensure that the rights of different races, sexes and religions are upheld.
But the local infrastructure body Navca said the assessments are crucial to uphold the rights of traditionally disadvantaged groups, such as disabled people, elderly people and people from ethnic minorities.
It said they have been used extensively in the past to prevent policies being introduced by statutory bodies, including councils, that adversely affect already disadvantaged groups.
"This announcement is shocking," said Joe Irvin, chief executive of Navca. "Economic growth may be the government’s number one priority, but permitting unfair and bad decision making will not help this. Checking equality impacts is not a tick-box exercise – it is about ensuring basic fairness."
Navca said if the government went ahead with its plans, it should prepare for a slew of legal challenges.
Last year, charities supported clients to a legal victory against Birmingham City Council when it attempted to change eligibility for social care for thousands of disabled people.
Ralph Michell, director of policy at the chief executives body Acevo, said the decision to scrap the assessments was a mistake.
"We may well be in a global race for success, but we won't win it by taking bad decisions quickly," he said.
Michell said that in a time of austerity, inequalities were likely to become worse rather than better, which made retaining the assessments vital.
The law firm Irwin Mitchell, which has supported charities on public law claims, said the assessments were vital so that public bodies could demonstrate that they were mindful of the impact of its policies on disadvantaged people.