Issue 24 October 2010

Welcome to the October edition of the Commission's email newsletter.

In this issue, you can find out about the Equality Act which comes into force today, our Triennial Review ‘How fair is Britain’ and much more...

Top stories

Equality Act comes into force

The vast majority of the Equality Act's provisions will come into force today. This landmark legislation strengthens, harmonises and streamlines 40 years of equality legislation, providing protection from discrimination across all the ‘protected characteristics’:  age, disability, sex (including gender reassignment), race, religion and belief, and sexual orientation.  The Equality Act affects you as an employer and service provider and applies whatever the size of your organisation or sector you work in.

Most of the Employment, Services and Education parts of the Act come into force on 1 October and the Public Sector Equality Duty provisions are planned to come into force in April 2011.

The Commission is providing wide-ranging support to the private, voluntary and public sectors to ensure they are fully aware of all the legal requirements. Please see our video introduction to the Act from Trevor Philips and Stephen Alambritis.

We have also produced in-depth guidance for employers, employees, schools and higher and further education providers, and those providing or using services, including clubs, associations and political parties.  The Commission will also be producing guidance for students and parents, guides on housing and transport, and guidance around the Public Sector Equality Duties.

To complement the guidance we are also producing a Starter Kit giving a short, accessible summary to the Act to help you understand the essentials of the law.  It will offer simple downloadable learning modules taking you through different scenarios as an employer or service provider.

We will be laying the following draft Codes of Practice before Parliament on 11 October:  Equal Pay, Employment, and Services and Public Functions.

Two statutory consultations are also planned this autumn; first on the  Code of Practice for Further and Higher Education, which launches today, and in November we will be consulting on the Public Sector Equality Duty Codes.  The consultation on the Schools Codes is scheduled for February/March 2011.

To find out more and keep up-to-date with all information, events and guidance about the Act please visit the Equality Act area of our website.

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Triennial Review

How Fair is Britain? Equality, human rights and good relations in 2010

Every three years, the Commission is required by statute to report to Parliament on how far Britain has come towards being a fair society, and how far we still have to go.

This Triennial Review, entitled How Fair is Britain? is the first major study of its kind to bring together all available evidence and therefore provide a unique insight into the current state of equality in Britain.

At the heart of the Triennial Review is an indicator-based approach that measures the progress of individuals and groups across key areas of human life. These include education, health, physical safety, employment and civic engagement.

As well as informing the Commission’s work, How Fair is Britain? will also provide an invaluable resource for public bodies, businesses and the third sector to use as they develop their strategies and business plans. Other organisations, researchers, academics and individuals will find a useful reference source.

The Review's online edition will make available a wealth of information in an easy-to-use and accessible format.

How Fair is Britain? will be launched on 11 October 2010. For more information, visit the Triennial Review section of our website. If you have any further questions regarding the Triennial Review, please contact triennialreview@equalityhumanrights.com

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News and views

Call for evidence closes in Disability-related Harassment Inquiry

The call for evidence in the Inquiry into disability-related harassment has now closed following a week-long extension until Friday 17 September due to demand.

We are pleased with both the quality and the number of responses to the Inquiry – which has seen more people contact us than any Inquiry we have previously held. We would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the Inquiry for their time and input.

If you have already contacted us to let us know you wish to submit evidence prior to the extended deadline, we will accept this evidence in to the Inquiry.

During this next phase of the Inquiry we will begin to analyse the evidence we have received, and talk to public bodies and transport operators about what the evidence tells us with the aim of making recommendations in our final report, due to be published in Spring 2011.

To find out more please go to the Inquiry section of our website.

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Fairness must be at the heart of budget decisions

The Commission has revealed the action it has taken to ensure the Government meets its legal obligations to consider the effect of budget cuts on vulnerable groups.

The aim of the Commission is to ensure that decision-makers come to their judgements based on the best information available, and we will be producing quick start guidance on our website, highlighting the importance of Equality Impact Assessments (EIA’s) later this month.

Neil Kinghan, Director General of Commission, said: 'Under equality legislation, the Treasury, like all public bodies, has a legal duty to pay 'due regard' to equality and consider any disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups when making decisions, including decisions about the budget. This legislation is not designed to prevent reductions in public expenditure. Its role, and the Commission's role, is to ensure fairness is at the heart of decisions.

'When the Spending Review was announced in June, the Commission wrote to Government departments, including the Treasury, asking for reassurance that they would comply with the legislation and issuing guidance to help them to do this. We have pressed the point in person with a number of Cabinet Ministers, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

'It is for the Treasury to demonstrate that it has complied with the legislation and assessed the impact of its decisions on vulnerable groups. If it cannot do so, then the Commission will have to consider appropriate enforcement action.'

Read the full press release.

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Working Better – disability and employment

Working Better is a policy initiative to explore how we can match the aspirations of employees with the needs of employers in ways that meet both the economic and individual challenges of modern Britain.

We launched our first report: Working Better: Meeting the changing needs of families, workers and employers in the 21st century in March 2009 with a focus on the needs of parents and families. This was followed by a policy briefing Working Better: The Over 50s, the new work generation in January 2010 to examine the work aspirations of the over 50s and the barriers facing them.

The next phase of Working Better has begun to explore the needs of disabled workers, looking beyond the traditional, rigid work place and time requirements.

We have a particular interest in how greater flexibility of work organisation and adjustments would help, what these might look like, and how we might help to highlight these through the Working Better programme.

Please contact us with your comments and ideas or just tell us about your own experiences and case studies: WorkingBetter@equalityhumanrights.com

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Businesses urged to examine their pay systems

The Equality and Human Rights Commission and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) have urged small and medium size businesses to examine their pay systems to ensure they comply with equal pay laws.

As part of the Commission’s drive to increase transparency around pay in the workplace, the Commission and the BCC on 2 September jointly published a quick and easy guide to help employers do this.

The process is relatively simple for a small organisation and should take no longer than four hours. While there are, of course, multiple causes of the pay gap, using this guidance to create fair transparent pay systems would be a good start in closing the gap. Forty years since the Equal Pay Act, women who work full time are still paid on average 16.4 % less per hour than men. This gap is wider in the private sector than in the public, at 21.6% compared to 14.6%.

Dr Jean Irvine, Commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: 'Employers need pay systems that are both transparent and fair. While transparency is not enough in itself to reduce the pay gap between men and women, it does provide clarity; it is difficult, if not impossible, to resolve a problem that cannot be seen.

'What we ask of small and medium size employers is not difficult; it takes minimal time and effort but can offer a real return. Employees will enjoy the benefits of working for a company which actively promotes equality while employers will protect themselves from a potentially costly and time consuming equal pay claim.'

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Charity cannot restrict its adoption services to heterosexual couples only

The Charity Commission has decided that it will not give consent to the charity Catholic Care to restrict its adoption services to heterosexual prospective parents only.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in this case to argue that an organisation cannot be registered as a charity and receive benefits such as tax relief, unless it acts in the public benefit. A charity should also comply with the Human Rights Act which outlaws discrimination.

A spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: ‘Any charity that intends to exclude a specific group of people from the services or benefits it provides has to be able to show that this unequal treatment is justified for very strong reasons. We are pleased that both the High Court and Charity Commission accepted our arguments when coming to their decision. The law is carefully weighted to balance the rights of organisations such as religious charities and the rights of minority groups such as those with a particular sexual orientation. We believe the outcome in this case helps reinforce that balance.’

More details on this case are available from the Charity Commission website.

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New guidance for care inspectors and assessors

The Care Quality Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have launched draft guidance on equality and human rights for inspectors and assessors. This guidance gives an overview of how the essential standards relate to equality and human rights law and what inspectors and assessors can do if they think these laws may have been breached.

We want your views on the draft guidance – whether you are someone who uses health or social care services, are a provider, a commissioner or any other interested party. The guidance is out to public consultation until 12 November 2010 and can be found in the human rights section of our website.

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Commission's intervention in NS v Secretary of State for the Home Department

The Commission intervened in this case in the Court of Appeal, about the removal of an Afghan asylum seeker from the UK to Greece under an EU law, which allows EU Member States to remove asylum seekers to their first entry point in Europe without determining their asylum claim.  The purpose of the Commission's intervention was to ensure the correct interpretation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the related UK Protocol when EU law is being applied in the UK. 

There has been considerable misunderstanding about the effect of the Protocol and the role of the Charter in the UK.  This has been compounded by the High Court's judgment, the subject of this appeal, which said that the Charter cannot be relied on against the UK.  This is the first case in the higher courts to consider the scope and effect of the Charter in the UK.

To find out more about this case please go to the legal updates section of our website.

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Wales

Workplace policies on domestic abuse and mental health

Our Who do you see? Living together in Wales research found that prejudices persist towards people with mental health conditions and victims of domestic abuse.

To assist employers, we have worked in partnership with experts from specialist voluntary sector organisations to look at what makes effective policy and practice. Through these partnerships we have produced a set of tools and guidance around these two areas.

These are two areas that employers in Wales should make it their business to tackle in order to retain skilled and experienced staff and ensure staff feel safe and supported in the workplace.

Please see Domestic abuse is your business and Mental health is your business.

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Equality Exchange Network Regional Events

The Commission’s Equality Exchange is a network that promotes the exchange of effective and innovative employment practice for employers, trainers and consultants committed to achieving equality in the workplace.

In response to the feedback we have received from members of the network, we ran a set of events in September in Rhyl, Swansea and Cardiff focusing on the Equality Act and what it will mean in practice for public sector organisations, covering the critical issue of the Equality Impact Assessment of budget cuts affecting the workforce and services.

If you are interested in joining the network and attending other events we have planned, please email clare.bosley@equalityhumanrights.com or telephone 02920 447 710.

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Film marks launch of Equality Act

Wales Commissioner Ann Beynon will be hosting a special screening of a new film starring Miranda Richardson and Bob Hoskins, 'Made in Dagenham', on the evening of 7 October  in Cardiff. The event marks the 40th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and the launch of the new Equality Act.

Made in Dagenham tells the story of the 1968 strike of the Ford Dagenham car plant, where female workers walked out in protest over equal pay. The film was shot on location at the Hoover factory, Merthyr Tydfil.

An audience of young women’s networks, trade unions, employers and others will share the lessons learned by those involved in progressing equal pay – and explore the opportunities provided by the Equality Act – during introductory speeches and discussions after the film.

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Scotland

Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland

Call for urgent national leadership on Gypsy Traveller accommodation stalemate

The Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland has called for the Scottish Government to provide urgent national leadership on the current situation as regards Gypsy Traveller accommodation in order to prevent further tension escalating within communities. 

The Commission will shortly publish research demonstrating the current lack of suitable accommodation and highlighting the need for action to ensure that there are sufficient suitable sites across Scotland, especially during the summer months.

Chris Oswald, Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland Head of Policy, said: 'Our research shows only 5 out of 32 local authorities have completed accommodation assessments that give them a real idea of the numbers of present and future pitch needed.  The research also finds that since 2006 there has been a net decrease in the number of pitches available for Gypsy Travellers. 

'It is clear is that the first step to a solution – identifying the scale of the shortfall to be met – is not yet in place. All we are talking about is the provision of land equivalent to the size of 1 or 2 football pitches across Scotland. This will take the pressure off local communities and allow Gypsy Travellers to pass through without causing disruption.  Surely this is not an impossible task?

'We are calling on the Scottish Government to devote the necessary resources to secure the sites we desperately need and to bring people together to seek resolution.'

The Commission in Scotland has also produced a media guide as a resource for journalists writing about Gypsies and Travellers in Scotland.

Media coverage has a real impact on individual people’s lives.  Fair and balanced reporting about issues concerning Gypsies and Travellers can help to foster greater understanding and better relations between and within communities and encourage action to address the issues that impact on both Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community.

Download a PDF version of the guide.
Download a Word version of the guide.

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