Gay, lesbian and bisexual European Union citizens will be entitled to equal treatment in the areas of social protection, including social security and health care, education and access to and supply of goods and services, it has been announced.

The European Commission today adopted a proposal for a directive which provides for protection from discrimination on grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief beyond the workplace.

All goods and services which are commercially available to the public, including housing, will be covered by the directive.

EU directives are legislation that requires member states to, for example, deal with discrimination, but leaves it up to the states to decide on the best course of action to take.

“The right to equal treatment is fundamental, but millions of people in the EU continue to face discrimination in their everyday lives,” said Vladimír Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.

“At present, there is an inequality in Community legislation itself because people are protected from discrimination outside the workplace only on grounds of gender and race or ethnic origin. We must ensure equal treatment for all grounds.

“The measures we propose are proportionate and reasonable; they give legal certainty to businesses and to users of goods and services while respecting the specific requirements of various sectors as well as national traditions.”

There is at present no EU law protecting LGB people from discrimination in areas such as goods and services which exist for race and gender.

All forms of discrimination at work are already covered by directives.

The directive will cover direct and indirect discrimination as well as harassment and victimisation.

However, member states will remain free to “maintain measures ensuring the secular nature of the State or concerning the status and activities of religious organisations.”

National equality bodies will give advice to victims of discrimination while civil society organisations will also have the possibility to help victims in judicial and administrative procedures.

According to an EU survey published today, Europeans think that discrimination remains rife, particularly when it comes to sexual orientation (51%), disability (45%), age and religion (42% each).

Around 1 in 3 Europeans report witnessing discrimination or harassment in the past year, and 48% think that not enough is being done.

An earlier survey conducted in February 2008 highlighted that a large majority of EU citizens (between 68% and 77%) see a need for specific legislation to protect people from discrimination in areas beyond the labour market.