Friday, January 02, 2009

Public Authorities Need a Map To Arrive at Full Equalities Compliance

2009 will see the debate and passage of a new Equality Bill, intended to replace over 100 separate pieces of legislation that have accumulated over the last 40 years.

Listen here for my in-depth review of the 40 year background:

Major features of the new law will be to create a new all-embracing public sector equality duty, replacing separate existing duties for Gender, Race and Disability. With each of these duties there is a requirement for public authorities to produce an appropriate "Equality Scheme", setting out the nature of what they do, and how they plan to ensure that differences in outcomes related to gender, race or disability are tackled.

The new "Single Equality Duty" will also embrace other diversities - lesbian, gay and bisexual people - religion or belief - and age. The aim is to simplify the law and eliminate historical disparities. New protections will also be introduced to embrace, for instance, discrimination by association or on the basis of perception.

Some public bodies have tried to be ahead of the game by publishing what they call a Single Equality Scheme. However, in their enthusiasm to do this, they may have made themselves non-compliant with the law's existing requirements.

Although we expect the new Equality Act to be passed in 2009, the reality is that the new Single Equality Duty won't come into effect until 2010 or 2011. The reason for this is because of the updating cycles for the race, disability and gender schemes which such bodies are required to produce and update every three years.

I've already come across organisations who've fallen into the trap of believing they could defer updating their race equality schemes (due for review in April/May 2008) because a new duty was just around the corner. Delaying like that is unlawful though. A similar requirement will arise for organisations to update their disability equality schemes in December 2009.

There is nothing "wrong" in consolidating equality schemes together in the interim; however the individual duties still need to be complied with -- and to call the result a "Single Equality Scheme" when it doesn't cover everyone to the same degree is liable to set false expectations in people reading it. (Better to call it a "Consolidated Scheme" until you're really in a position to gaurantee that the contents address all the requirements of legislation that is yet to be seen).

Public bodies therefore need a road map to get from where they are today to a position where they can effortlessly achieve compliance with the new extended duty in 2011.

Contact me if you'd like to know how.

Christine Burns

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