TUC calls on government to implement Equality Act in full
On the law's 10th anniversary, the TUC says the full powers of the act have still not been implemented as Covid-19 has deepened inequality and discrimination at work.
The TUC has called on the government to implement the Equality Act in full on its tenth anniversary.
The union organisation is also challenging ministers to show how they have delivered on the legal duties in the act in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Equality Act became law a decade ago on 1 October 2010. It protects working people from discrimination based on age, sex, disability, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership status, pregnancy or maternity, or gender reassignment. It was also designed to improve the lives of working class people through tackling inequality, but that part of the act, the socio-economic duty, was never brought into force.
The TUC is concerned that 10 years since it was introduced, the full powers of the act have still not been implemented. And there is little evidence that the government is fulfilling its legal duty to consider the impact on inequalities in the decisions it makes.
The TUC says that Covid-19 has deepened inequality and discrimination at work and is calling on the government to:
- Bring the socio-economic duty into force: This was included in the original act but never implemented. It would require government and the public sector to deliver better outcomes for lower income people and make narrowing inequality a priority.
- Reintroduce protections subsequently taken out: Previous governments have stripped away protections that were originally in the Equality Act – such Section 40, which would make employers liable for harassment of their employees by customers or clients. The union body says that in the current situation where hostility and assaults on retail and hospitality staff are increasing during the pandemic, this should be reinstated urgently.
- Publish equality impact assessments for all government policies, as the law requires: in particular, the government should publish every equality impact assessment that they carried out to inform their response to Covid-19 – and should be held to account for those that are missing.
Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary said:
"Everyone has the right to respect and equal treatment at work – and in wider society. The Equality Act should have been a gamechanger. But ten years on, it still isn't fully in force. Now is the time for the government to implement it in full. The pandemic has shown that the UK is still riven with discrimination.
"Black workers are more likely to be in frontline jobs with inadequate PPE – and more likely to die. Pregnant and disabled workers are too often first in line for redundancy. And the disappearance of much childcare provision has left women struggling to hold on to their jobs.
"Without the protection of Section 40 of the Equality Act, staff have less protection from abuse and harassment. Yet during the pandemic, we have seen a rise in hostility and assaults on shop workers and hospitality staff. Britain can be a more equal, more prosperous country. Equality must not be an afterthought for ministers."
The socio-economic duty is contained in section 1 of the Equality Act 2010 and requires government ministers, local authorities and other public authorities to have due regard to 'the desirability of exercising [their functions] in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage'. However, this part of the Equality Act has not been enacted by successive UK governments.
The power of a positive duty on public bodies is important in that organisations are required to justify and explain their decisions openly. The duty would not only promote the transparency and accountability of decision-makers but would mean that failure to deliver against the duty could result in legal challenge. Along with the TUC, the Social Mobility Commission has called for the enactment of the socio-economic duty, a call that has been echoed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and a range of civil society organisations.
Until 2013, an employer could be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 if they failed to take reasonable steps to prevent third-party harassment at work where they were aware of it having occurred on at least two occasions. This provision, under Section 40, was repealed by the government in 2013 despite over 70 per cent of those who responded to a government consultation being against its removal. We believe this provision should be reintroduced and strengthened in the Equality Act.
The Equality Act 2010 also introduced the public sector equality duty on public authorities, including government. The broad purpose of the equality duty is to integrate consideration of equality and good relations into the day-to-day business of public authorities. It requires equality considerations to be reflected into the design of policies and the delivery of services, including internal policies, and for these issues to be kept under review.
Compliance with the general equality duty is a legal obligation. The general equality duty is intended to accelerate progress towards equality for all, by placing a responsibility on bodies subject to the duty to consider how they can work to tackle systemic discrimination and disadvantage affecting people with particular protected characteristics.