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Public sector equality duties

The public sector equality duties under the Equality Act 2010 cover eight core ‘protected characteristics’ These are:

Age Disability
Gender Gender re-assignment
Pregnancy and maternity Race
Religion or belief Sexual orientation

 The new duty requires public bodies – such as local authorities, education institutions, police forces, national health services, NHS trusts and bodies to have ‘due regard’ to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation;
  • Advance equality of opportunity; and
  • Foster good relations across all the protected characteristics (with the exception of marriage and civil partnership).

The public equality duty also applies to marriage and civil partnership, but only in respect of the requirement to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination.

It is through the implementation of these public duties that organisations will identify and address institutional discrimination.

Having ‘due regard’ means consciously thinking about the three aims of the general duty as part of the process of decision making. This means that consideration of equality issues must influence the decisions reached by public bodies – in how you act as employers; how you develop, evaluate and review policy; how you design, deliver and evaluate services, and how you commission and procure from others.

Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity involves considering the need to:

  • remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics;
  • meet the needs of people with protected characteristics; and
  • encourage people with protected characteristics to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is low.

Fostering good relations involves tackling prejudice and promoting understanding between people from different groups.

Complying with the general duty may involve treating some people differently from others, as far as this is allowed by discrimination law. For example, it may involve making use of an exception or the positive action provisions in order to provide a service in a way which is appropriate for a particular group.

The general duty also explicitly recognises that disabled people’s needs are different from those of non disabled people. In considering the need to meet the needs of disabled people, public bodies should therefore take account of disabled people’s disabilities. This might mean making reasonable adjustments for them. See guidance from the Government Equality Office.

Specific duties

The general duty is underpinned by a number of specific duties which provide a framework to help public bodies meet the general duty. Most public bodies subject to the general duty are also subject to the specific duties. The specific duties require public bodies to set specific, measurable equality objectives and to publish information about their performance on equality, so that the public can hold them to account. All information must be published in a way which makes it easy for people to access it.

Information showing that they have complied with the general duty: Public bodies covered by the specific duties must publish sufficient information to show that they have considered the three aims of the general duty across their functions.

The information published must include information on the effect that the public body’s policies and practices have on equality for service users, and (for those with 150 or more staff) on equality for their employees. Public bodies with 150 or more staff will be expected to publish information on significant and long standing inequalities such as the gender pay gap and the proportion and distribution of disabled employees and staff from ethnic minority communities.

Evidence of equality analysis undertaken: Public bodies must publish evidence of equality analysis they have undertaken to establish whether their policies and practices would further, or have furthered, the three aims of the general duty. They must also publish details of the information they considered in conducting that analysis.

Equality objectives: Public bodies must publish equality objectives that will help them to further the aims of the general duty. These must be based on published equality evidence and analysis, and they must be specific and measurable. Public bodies must also publish how they will measure progress towards their equality objectives.

Details of engagement undertaken: Public bodies covered by the specific duties must publish information about engagement they have undertaken with people who have an interest in furthering the three aims of the general duty. They must also publish details of the engagement they undertook in developing their equality objectives.

For a full explanation of each individual piece of legislation follow the following links:

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