Equality Act 2010 – “Not fit for purpose”.
“Employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account.” Maria Miller, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee.
Last year SIA asked our members for their views on the Equality Act. A big thanks to everyone who responded. We built these responses into our written submission to the cross-party Women and Equalities Committee during the evidence-gathering phase of their enquiry in 2018.
Following a year-long enquiry, the Committee has now published its report into the Equality Act 2010, declaring it “not fit for purpose” in today’s society and calling for a “fundamental shift in approach”.
The report argues against relying on an individual approach to enforcing the right to equality, which dates back to the 1960s and 70s. Instead, it recommends this is replaced by a new approach providing a proper deterrent and with the teeth to tackle institutional and systemic discrimination. While individuals must still have the right to challenge discrimination in the courts, says the Committee, the system of enforcement should ensure that this is only rarely needed, instead of being the standard approach. This would clearly require a transformational change in the way that enforcement of the Equality Act is thought about and applied.
Committee Chair Maria Miller said:
“Creating a fairer society where people are not treated differently because of the colour of their skin, their sex, gender, sexuality or religion is central to British values. In our first four years, in inquiry after inquiry the Women and Equalities Committee has heard abundant evidence of the destructive impact discrimination has on people’s lives, as well as the heavy cost that it puts on society and public services. One thing is absolutely clear: the burden of enforcement must shift away from the individual. We need a fundamental shift in approach, and our report shows how to do it.”
The Committee’s work in a range of areas has shown that individuals have difficulties enforcing their rights under the Act and has questioned the effectiveness of the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). This includes inquiries on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, transgender equality, disability and the built environment, workplace dress codes, older people and employment and sexual harassment in the workplace, which all identified widespread problems with enforcement.
The report’s main recommendations are:
- Develop a ‘critical mass’ of cases to inform employers and organisations about their legal duties and make adherence to existing equality law a priority for all organisations.
- Move away from relying so heavily on the current model of using individual litigation to create precedents.
- Make obligations on employers, public authorities, and service providers explicit and enforceable.
- Ensure that all who have powers to change the way in which employers, public bodies and service providers operate use their powers to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality.
- The EHRC must refocus its work and be bolder in using its unique enforcement powers.
The report is clear that the Government must also make this fundamental shift in the way that enforcement of the Equality Act is thought about and applied. Maria Miller said:
“Above all, the Government must act on its own obligations. It must embed compliance and enforcement of the Equality Act into its most significant strategies and action plans. That it has not yet done so in its recent efforts to improve the quality of work – where stopping discrimination is so clearly an essential precondition to any improvements – beggars belief. Our report sets out exactly what needs to be done, and we look forward to hearing how the Government plans to act on this.”
The Government will now consider this report before responding formally to the recommendations.
Many thanks to all our members who responded to our request and took the time to contribute their views and experiences.