The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act applies to public and private sector bodies and replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act. It simplified the legislation base, removed inconsistencies and made it easier for people to understand and comply with the law. It also strengthened protection in important ways, to help tackle discrimination and inequality. The aim of the legislation is to ensure services and employment opportunities are available to all sections of society, in relation to the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Types of discrimination and definitions
Direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably than another person because of a protected characteristic.
This is direct discrimination against someone because they associate with another person who possesses a protected characteristic.
This is direct discrimination against an individual because others think they possess a particular protected characteristic. It applies even if the person does not actually possess that characteristic.
Indirect discrimination can occur when a condition, rule, policy or even a practice is applied to everyone but particularly disadvantages people who share a protected characteristic. Indirect discrimination can be justified if it can be shown that it is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. Being proportionate means being fair and reasonable, including showing that ‘less discriminatory’ alternatives have been considered as part of the decision-making process.
Harassment is “unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.”
Unwanted conduct covers a wide range of behaviour, including spoken or written words or abuse, imagery, graffiti, physical gestures, facial expressions, mimicry, jokes, pranks, acts affecting a person’s surroundings or other physical behaviour. The word unwanted means essentially the same as ‘unwelcome’ or ‘uninvited’. ‘Unwanted’ does not mean that express objection must be made to the conduct before it is deemed to be unwanted.
Victimisation occurs when someone is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint or raised a grievance under the Equality Act; or because they are suspected of doing so.
The Act also included a new and additional protection relating to disability.
Discrimination arising from disability
Discrimination arising from disability occurs when a disabled person is treated unfavourably because of something connected with their disability and the unfavourable treatment cannot be justified.
The Public Sector Equality Duty
The Public Sector Equality Duty (section 149 of the Act) applies to public bodies and others carrying out public functions. It supports good decision-making by ensuring public bodies proactively consider how different people will be affected by their activities, helping them to deliver policies and services which are efficient and effective; accessible to all; and which meet different people’s needs. The Equality Duty requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination harassment and victimisation and other prohibited conduct
- advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
- foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it
Due Regard means consciously thinking about the three aims of the Duty as part of the process of decision-making. For example:
- how the council acts as an employer
- how policies are developed, evaluated and reviewed
- how services are designed, delivered and evaluated
- how the Council commissions and procures services and products from other organisations
Advancing equality of opportunity involves considering the need to:
- remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by people because of their protected characteristics
- meet the needs of people with protected characteristics
- encourage people with protected characteristics to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is low
Fostering good relations involves tackling prejudice and promoting understanding between people who share a protected characteristic and others.
Complying with the Equality Duty may involve treating some people better than others, as far as this is allowed in discrimination law. This could mean making use of an exception or positive action provisions in order to provide a service in a way that is appropriate for people who share a protected characteristic – e.g. providing computer training for older people to help them to access information and services.
The Equality Duty is also supported by specific duties which require public bodies to publish relevant, proportionate information demonstrating their compliance with the Equality Duty; and to set themselves specific, measurable equality objectives.
Specific duty - publish information
Publishing relevant equality information helps to make public bodies transparent about their decision-making processes, and accountable to their service users. It gives the public the information they need to hold public bodies to account for their performance on equality. The Council has published a variety of information on the website including this document.
Specific duty – identify equality objectives
The Public Sector Equality Duty required public bodies to prepare and publish, by 6 April 2012, one or more specific and measurable equality objectives which will help them to further the three aims of the Equality Duty. Subsequent objectives must be published at least every four years.
Public bodies are able to decide what and how many equality objectives should be set. It was recognised that by identifying objectives which were stretching, and which focused on the biggest equality challenges facing the public body, that the greatest impact could be achieved in furthering the aims of the Equality Duty.
When deciding what equality objectives to set, public bodies are advised to take account of:
- evidence of equality issues across all its functions
- issues affecting people sharing each of the protected characteristics
- the need to promote equality of opportunity, eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and foster good relations.
The number of objectives should also be proportionate to the public body’s size; the extent to which its functions affect equality; and evidence that such objectives are needed.
The council is keen to ensure that it continues to adopt a good practice and robust approach to equality issues across all its activities. This can best be achieved through the continued implementation, review and inclusion of an Equality & Diversity Strategy as part of the council’s Policy Framework.