The Equality Act 2010 brought together nine separate pieces of legislation into one single act.
The majority of the Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1 October 2010, providing protection from discrimination on the basis of 'protected characteristics'. The Equality Act covers the same groups that were protected by previous equality legislation - age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
The nine main pieces of legislation that have been replaced by the Equality Act are:
- Equal Pay Act 1970
- Sex Discrimination Act 1975
- Race Relations Act 1976
- Disability Discrimination Act 1995
- Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003
- Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003
- Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006
- Equality Act 2006 (Part 2)
- Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007
The Equality Act also includes the Public Sector Equality Duty which replaces the separate duties relating to Race, Gender and Disability.
Public Sector Equality Duty
The public sector equality duty consists of a general equality duty, set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 itself, and specific duties which are imposed by secondary legislation. The general equality duty came into force on 5 April 2011.
In summary, those subject to the General Equality Duty must, in the exercise of their functions, have due regard to the need to:
- Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act
- Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not
- Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not
The above are sometimes referred to as the three aims of the general equality duty.
NB: In relation to the protected characteristic of Marriage and Civil Partnership, protection is provided under the first aim of the duty only.
The Act helpfully explains that having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity involves:
- Removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics (e.g. address the problems that women have in accessing senior positions in the workplace)
- Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people (e.g. this involves taking steps to take account of disabled people’s disabilities)
- Encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low (e.g. take steps to encourage more disabled people to apply for senior post in the civil service)
Having due regard to the need to foster good relations involves:
- Tackling prejudice (e.g. tackle homophobic bullying in schools)
- Promote understanding (e.g. promote understanding of different faiths)
The General Equality Duty is supported by specific duties set out in separate regulations which came into force on 10 September 2011. These regulations will promote better performance of the Equality Duty by requiring public authorities to:-
1) Publish Equality Information to demonstrate compliance annually, commencing the 31 of January 2012
2) Prepare and publish equality objectives every four years, commencing the 30 April 2012
More information on the Equality Act can be found on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.