In June 2010 the coalition government began a public consultation on its proposals for implementing the Equality Duty under the Equality Act 2010.
In the words of the Equalities Office:
The Equality Duty is a duty on public bodies and others carrying out public functions. The aim of the Equality Duty is to embed equality considerations into the day to day work of public bodies, so that they tackle discrimination and inequality and contribute to making society fairer.
The Equality Duty consists of a general duty, with three main aims (set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010); and specific duties (set out in secondary legislation to accompany the Equality Act 2010). The specific duties are designed to help public bodies meet the general duty.
The consultation document can be found here.
Gender & Law at Durham (GLAD) organised a workshop in December 2010 in which the consultation paper was analysed, together with the draft secondary regulations the government had proposed to implement the Equality Duty. Particular attention was given to the effect of the proposals on equality for women, and lesbian, gay and transgender people. Our written submission to the government can be found here.
Last week the government released its response to the consultation, and amended regulations, together with ECHR guidance on the new duties, which can all be found here.
The government response notes many of the concerns raised in our own submission, including the move away from national standards for compliance with the Equality Duty, and enforcement mechanisms. Unsurprisingly, though, no steps have been taken to address these concerns in any meaningful way – the government’s ideologically-motivated “decentralisation process”, as it calls it in the document, survives largely intact.
Our fear (shared, it seems, by many other respondents to the consultation) is that this decentralisation process will lead to inconsistencies in adherence to the equality agenda between public authority organisations. To take just one practical example, no mention is made in the government response of our demand for greater specificity in the regulations in relation to publication of data relating to the gender pay gap.
Also worrying is the continued insistence that citizens, rather than the state, are best placed to ensure compliance by public authorities with equalities standards, even while recognising “a general unease that the sector, citizens, or under-represented groups would lack the capacity (both in time, resources and analytical skills) to scrutinise the published equality data, and would therefore find it difficult to hold public authorities to account.”
We can claim one small success though: the government has accepted that the Judicial Appointments Commission, omitted originally from the list of public authorities subject to the Equality Duty, should be included.
The Equality Duty will be commenced on 6th April 2011.