Equality watchdog report highlights impact of pandemic on equality and human rights across Wales

Published: 16 November 2023

A comprehensive examination of the equality and human rights landscape in Wales over the last five years has been published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).  

The Equality and Human Rights Monitor report assesses the state of equality and human rights across Britain. Specific findings from Wales are included in the Is Wales Fairer? nation report. 

The analysis focuses on the nine protected characteristics safeguarded by the Equality Act 2010 and provides an overview of the progress and challenges in areas such as education, health, justice and work.  

The EHRC produce the report for the UK Parliament every five years, as the regulator of Britain’s equality laws and the human rights watchdog for England and Wales.  

Presenting a mixed picture, the latest report reflects the unique challenges faced in recent years, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, rising inflation and the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine.  

The COVID-19 pandemic in particular had a profound impact on certain groups, across multiple areas of society, and the challenges it brought exacerbated some existing inequalities in Wales.  

Is Wales Fairer? reflects some of the unique challenges faced in Wales. These include stagnating employment growth, a rise in temporary accommodation usage and the highest child poverty rates in the three nations”. 

The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on protected characteristic groups, across multiple areas. These impacts include: older peoples’ access to healthcare, and widening attainment gaps between groups in education, particularly pupils with protected characteristics such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children.  

Wales has advanced in some areas over the last five years.  Progress included:  

  • Women’s representation: Women’s representation in local government has risen.  In 2022, 23% of CEOs in Welsh local government were women.  
  • The proportion of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) has fallen: The proportion has fallen steadily since 2010, although this has slowed since 2017. 
  • Lowering wait times for transgender patients: Waiting times for the Welsh Gender Service are currently lower than in England and Scotland but still higher than Welsh Government targets and demand is increasing. 
  • Lower incarceration rates for young people: In 2021-22, there were on average only 10 children from Wales aged 10-17 in custody, down from 17 in 2020-21. This is the lowest number on record, with the average youth custody population also dropping by 88.5% over the past decade in Wales. 

But the report exposes areas where Wales needs to improve. Some of these were exacerbated by the pandemic. The areas include: 

  • Widespread data gaps: There are data gaps for all protected characteristics in Wales.  The Welsh Government, alongside other public bodies, should close these gaps and disaggregate data by protected characteristic, to allow for strong evidence-based policy and decision making.  
  • Persistent pay gaps: Pay gaps between women and men, for ethnic groups and for disabled people persist, with women being paid 14.1% less than men across Wales.  
  • Prison system failings: There are serious ongoing issues across the prison estates of England and Wales, including poor conditions, poor safety, and a lack of purposeful activities for prisoners.  These issues were exacerbated by the pandemic.  
  • Health inequalities: These have worsened for some groups in Wales.  Inequalities include a gap in healthy life expectancy between the most and least deprived areas. For example, a man living in the most deprived area of Wales has a life expectancy of 54.2 years as compared to 67.6 in the least deprived area of Wales. The Covid-19 pandemic led to a rapid increase in healthcare waiting times in Wales, with the proportion of patients waiting over 26 weeks for treatment increasing from 10.9% in 2019 to 45.5% in 2021.   
  • Mental health: mental health has deteriorated for children, LGBT people and disabled people. 


"Our Equality and Human Rights Monitor: Is Wales Fairer? is a comprehensive review of progress in Wales towards greater equality and respect for human rights.  

“We welcome the improvements made over the past five years.  But our report shows that substantial further action is required in many areas.  

“We urge leaders in Welsh Government and the public sector to act on our report and to ensure that policies and decisions are evidence-based across all nine protected characteristics.” 

Baroness Kishwer Falkner

Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

“Is Wales Fairer? makes several recommendations to the Welsh Government and to other organisations in Wales.  These include:  

  • Narrowing the educational attainment gaps for protected characteristic groups, particularly Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, and disabled children.  
  • Taking action to reduce the level of homelessness, particularly to lower the disproportionate number of people from ethnic minority groups who experience homelessness.  
  • Increasing digital inclusion for those aged over 65 in Wales, so that they can safely access services such as health and social care, particularly if they lack internet access or digital literacy skills. 


Additional key findings in the report:  

  • There are approximately 8,200 young carers, who are more likely than others of their age to live in deprived areas and experience disruption to their education.  
  • Among adults aged under 65 (excluding students), those aged 55–64 had the lowest employment rates (58.4%) and highest rates of economic inactivity (40.1%) in 2019/20. This age group’s employment rates rose between 2010/11 and 2019/20, but saw no growth in hourly earnings.   
  • Disabled adults report poorer mental health outcomes than non-disabled adults.  In 2021/22, 34.7% of disabled adults reported good or very good health compared with 65.3% of non-disabled adults. 
  • Trans people fear facing discrimination in the workplace. A 2018 survey found almost half of trans respondents hid their gender identity at work and almost a third experienced negative comments from co-workers.  
  • Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have significantly lower educational attainment rates than all other ethnic groups. 
  • 89.1% of single-parent households are headed by women. Households most likely to be living in poverty are single parent households. 
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual groups experience poorer physical and mental health than heterosexual adults. The gap in physical health outcomes has improved over time, but the gap in mental health outcomes was unchanged before the COVID-19 pandemic.