Save the Public Sector Equality Duty

Women are still not equal to men and this inequality manifests itself in many ways:  women in the UK still earn an average 15% less than men,  are  more likely to live  in poverty than men, and have a higher risk of experiencing  domestic and sexual violence. Women are also under represented in positions of power and influence across public life.

Public authorities can and should play a really important role in achieving a more equal society, and equality legislation shaping how they operate is vital.

The Public Sector Equality Duty (‘PSED’)  came into force in 2011, replacing the previous race, disability and gender equality duties. This requires that all public authorities – from the government, your local council, to the NHS  – must pay ‘due regard’ to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment, and promote equality of opportunity and foster good relations between groups.

In practice this means the way they do everything from spending money to recruiting new staff must reflect the duty, so should ensure that public authorities design and deliver their services fairly, taking into consideration the starting point of women’s equality relative to men’s.

The PSED was introduced through the Equality Act 2010 and covers  nine protected characteristics including sex, age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.

Under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010,

A public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to:

(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act; .

(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it; .

(c) foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

In order to help public bodies apply the Duty better, the Equality Act 2010 gave English, Welsh and Scottish Ministers powers to make regulations imposing specific duties on bodies specified in schedule 19. Consequently, there are different regulations for England, Wales and Scotland.

The specific duties that exist for England are intended to enable public bodies to carry out the PSED more effectively. They are designed to ensure that public bodies are transparent about their compliance with the Equality Duty. The specific duties require public bodies in England to publish:

–       information to demonstrate their compliance with the Equality Duty, by 31 January 2012 ( 6 April 2012 for schools) and then at least annually, and

–       equality objectives, by 6 April 2012 and then at least every four years.

What is Fawcett doing?

The Government is currently reviewing  the utility and effectiveness of the Duty in its current form. Fawcett is working with the Equality and Diversity Forum (a network of national organisations committed to equal opportunities, social justice, good community relations, respect for human rights and an end to discrimination based on age, disability, gender and gender identity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation)  to provide evidence to the review to prevent any weakening or scrapping of this important piece of legislation.

We have also submitted our own stand alone response to the review – you can download this to the right of this page.

In July 2013, we published a new report – ‘Red Tape, Red Line: five reasons why government should not “drop its duty” to tackle women’s inequality’. This is also available to download to the right of this page, view the accompanying press release.

 

Why is equality law important?

Equality law is important in ensuring that public authorities are acting fairly and can be crucial in holding public authorities to account. For example, in 2010, the Fawcett Society sought a Judicial Review of the government’s Emergency Budget 2010, because we believed the government had not considered the budget’s impact on equality in line with the law.

Our case was based on something called the Gender Equality Duty ( this preceded the PSED but served the same function, though it focused solely on sex equality. This duty placed  an obligation on public authorities (including central government departments) to have ‘due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful gender discrimination and harassment’, and to ‘promote equality of opportunity between women and men’ when carrying out their functions.

To meet the requirements of this piece of law, the government would have had to  ‘assess the impact of their current and proposed policies and practices on gender equality’ and produce what is commonly known as a ‘Gender Equality Impact Assessment (GEIA).

It was our belief that the government did not assess the impact of their budget on equality between women and men.  If they had, they would have realised that their budget was going to hit women disproportionately hard, in such a way that undermined equality between women and men, and so would have been forced to amend the budget.

Find out more about Fawcett’s bid for a judicial review

 

 

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