Call for the government to implement the Equality Act in full

By agency reporter
October 3, 2020

The TUC is calling on the government to implement the Equality Act in full. 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 ten 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 as 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.

TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, 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.

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.

* More information on the Equality Act here

* Trades Union Congress https://www.tuc.org.uk/

[Ekk/6]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.