Changes to the Equality Act 2010
as of 23 March 2011
The Equality Act 2010 consolidates all existing anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of sex, race, disability, religion or belief, sexual orientation and age, with the main aim of reconciling some of the discrepancies and differences in the current legislation and to provide a more simple, consistent, effective legal framework for preventing discrimination. 90% of the Equality Act was implemented in October 2010 with the remaining parts of the Act due to be enforced at later stages.
Amongst other provisions, the Equality Act 2010 was designed to:
- Define discrimination as less favourable treatment because of a protected characteristic: disability, age, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. It also covers less favourable treatment due to an association with someone with a protected characteristic or an incorrect belief that someone has the protected characteristic based on perception and assumption.
- Repeal the list of capacities set out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which currently forms part of the definition of disability.
- Allow dual discrimination claims to be made in relation to direct discrimination combining no more than two of the following protected characteristics: age; disability; gender reassignment; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation.
Previously and now currently, people can only bring separate discrimination claims relating to one ‘protected characteristic’ such as their age, disability, gender identity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
Dual Discrimination Claims
Employees would have had to prove that they had been treated less favourably than others because of a combination of protected characteristics for example age and gender; a woman of child-bearing age who did not receive a job offer or promotion on what she believed to be the grounds that she was more likely to be absent from work due to maternity leave could have raised a dual discrimination claim on the grounds of age and sex. Combined discrimination claims were likely to be hard to defend so employers would have had to take extra care to ensure that decisions about staff were based solely on merit.
Removing Dual Discrimination Protection announced in Budget, 23 March 2011
Chancellor George Osborne announced during the delivery of his "Budget for Growth” speech on 23 March 2011 that the coalition government would be removing protection on the grounds of dual discrimination from the Equality Act 2010. The Treasury claims scrapping a number of existing business regulations will save British business £350 million. Supporters of the budget, claim that dual discrimination will cost British business too much and lead to an increase in compensation claims.
Critics of the budget, claim that groups such as older women and gay, black, HIV positive individuals need the protection offered by dual discrimination legislation.
National Aids Trust CEO, Deborah Jack has stated that this is "a backward step in the struggle for the rights of people with HIV and indeed many others who suffer dual discrimination. We seem to be back in the bad old days where human rights were thought somehow to harm the economy. The government should realise that ending all forms of discrimination in the workplace is not anti-business but provides us with the best possible workforce. We urge the government to change its mind and take a stand for fairness.”
The inclusion of dual discrimination in the Equality Act 2010 was also backed by Stonewall; they stated in 2009 that lesbians could face "particular issues” because of their gender and sexual orientation.
Claimants will now only be able to contest discrimination on the grounds of one protected characteristic at a time, as they were previously.
Alexander Ehmann, Head of Employment Policy, Institute of Directors has said "The Government has talked a good game on regulation and employment law, but has produced very few meaningful improvements for business to date. However, the decision to repeal the dual discrimination provisions of the Equality Act is a tangible piece of de-regulation and we are pleased to see that the IoD’s arguments have won through…dual discrimination provisions threatened to increase the scale and complexity of workplace disputes at the same time as moves were afoot to improve the employment tribunal system. The Government deserves credit for this important repeal of an unnecessary change”.
Chancellor George Osborne said that the scrapping of some regulations was "all part of our ambition to make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business”.
As part of the scrapping of existing business regulation: -
- Small businesses with fewer than 10 employees will benefit from a suspension from new legislation for 3 years;
- The right to ask for time off for training will not be extended to employees of businesses with less than 250 employees;
- Repealing the right for parents of 17 year old children to request flexible working;
- Reviews of existing business regulations to remove the most burdensome so further announcements are expected including those on maternity and paternity rights. The government has claimed that if the EU plans go ahead to give 20 weeks maternity and two weeks paternity leave on full pay, it will cost UK business in excess of an extra £2 billion per year.
- The Government has also announced that it will consult to remove the "unworkable" requirement under the Equality Act 2010 for employers to take reasonable steps to prevent harassment of employees by third parties such as maintenance contractors over whom the employer does not have direct control. This only applies if the employer knows that the same employee has been harassed on at least two previous occasions, the third party may be the same or a different person on each occasion; third party harassment provisions currently protect people on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Socio Economic Duty already scrapped from Equality Act 2010
In November 2010, Theresa May, Equalities Minister & Home Secretary confirmed that the Socio Economic Duty would be scrapped from the Equality Act 2010. Alongside existing public sector duties, the socio economic duty would have demanded public bodies consider the impact of policy on people from poorer backgrounds in the same way they currently need to consider the impact of policy decisions on women, minorities and disabled people. While the new Equality Duty, implemented in April 2011 extends considerations to also cover age, religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment, the socio economic duty dubbed as "socialism in one clause” by critics has been removed. This is despite findings by the National Equality Panel in their 2010 report "Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK”, which outlined socio economic inequality as a route cause of social disadvantage in the UK. The report commissioned by the previous Labour government was the most comprehensive research ever published on inequalities.
"Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK” by the National Equality Panel, 2010 from the "Government Equalities Office”: -