Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, welcomed the announcement today by Her Majesty the Queen that the Equality Bill will be brought forward in Parliament within the next year.
The Equality Bill will significantly strengthen and streamline discrimination legislation to make Britain a fairer and more equal place, including banning age discrimination, increasing transparency on gender pay gaps, and rooting out inequality.
The Bill will make it easier for people and businesses to know their rights and their obligations. It will be in plain English and will replace nine major pieces of legislation and numerous other measures, spanning some forty years.
New equality duty on the public sector
· Public bodies already have a duty to consider how their spending decisions, employment practices, and service delivery can affect people according to their race, disability, or gender.
· The Equality Bill will replace this with a new streamlined and strengthened Equality Duty, which will be extended to cover sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age, and religion or belief.
· This means that public bodies will need to consider how services affect a wide range of different people. For example, it may prompt a town planner to think about the impact that drop-down kerbs and accessible public toilets can have on the day-to-day life of a wheelchair user, or extra park benches could be provided in local parks by the council, so that older people can benefit from public spaces as well as younger people.
Ending age discrimination
· The Equality Bill will include powers to ban discrimination against older people in the provision of goods, facilities, and services. Things that benefit older people, such as free bus passes, will still be allowed.
· There will be a transitional period to allow organisations time to adjust. Work is already underway, for example in the finance and health care sectors, and the Government will bring the new law into force more quickly in sectors which are ready to comply.
· Public bodies will also have a new legal duty to tackle age discrimination and take older people into consideration when planning services, such as not providing car parking tickets through complicated technology which older people may be less able to use.
Increase transparency in the workplace
Inequality cannot be tackled if it is hidden. Transparency is essential to eradicate discrimination:
· The Equality Bill will ban ‘secrecy clauses’ so that work colleagues can compare wages and challenge employers who unlawfully pay them less. Nearly a quarter of employers ban their staff talking about their wages, with women more likely to be in the dark about colleagues’ pay than men.
· Public bodies will report on inequalities like gender pay, disability employment, and ethnic minority employment.
· At the moment Employment Tribunals can only make judgments work for the individual who brought the case. The Bill will allow tribunals to make recommendations which will benefit everybody in the workforce and help prevent similar types of discrimination happening again.
· £175 billion is spent every year by the public sector on British businesses – Government will look at how public procurement can be used to deliver transparency and change.
· The Equality and Human Rights Commission will conduct a series of inquiries in sectors where there is clear inequality, and today has announced it will be investigating the financial services industry, which has a gender pay gap of 41.5 per cent compared with the national figure of 21 per cent, and the construction industry, where ethnic minorities represent just 2.5 per cent of workers, compared with around 8 per cent across other industries.
· The Government will examine how an equality “kite-mark” could challenge businesses to report on important equality information.
· The Government will continue to work with the CBI, Unions, employers, and others to collect evidence on the effectiveness of equal pay job evaluation audits.
· Some businesses want to increase the diversity of their workforces, for example to access new markets or gain fresh insights. And it makes sense for local organisations and public bodies to reflect and so better understand the communities they serve.
· Recognised business benefits of a diverse workforce include increased efficiency and productivity, attracting new business, increased understanding of customers’ needs, and filling skills gaps. The CBI, TUC, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission support positive action.
· Positive action will be entirely optional, and absolutely not about quotas (permissive rather than compulsory). It will help organisations that want to increase the number of employees from a certain under-represented group, so that they better reflect their local community or customer base. Positive discrimination will remain illegal.
· But employers need to be sure that the law is on their side. So, as long as candidates are equally suitable and there is evidence of under-representation, the Equality Bill will allow employers to have the option to appoint the person who is from a group (for example gender or race) that is under-represented in their workforce, and so balance things out if they want to. For example, a primary school may want to increase the number of male teachers who act as role models to young boy pupils.
· There is clear evidence that people from some groups, for whatever reason, do not get the same opportunities as others – despite being equally suitable. For example, only:
One High Court Judge is from an ethnic minority;
Eight per cent of University Vice Chancellors are women;
Twelve per cent of board directors in the UK’s top 100 companies are women; and
Not a single Member of Parliament is an Asian women.
Political parties will be allowed to continue to use All Women Shortlists to select candidates for at least another five general elections. This helped nearly double the number of women MPs in 1997 from 63 to 120.
But today women still make up less than one in five of all MPs.
The Equality Bill is part of a wider body of work being taken forward by the Government to reduce disadvantage and promote equality and opportunity for all.
Earlier this year Harriet Harman announced the National Equality Panel (which is analysing how people’s life chances are affected by factors such as where they were born and family background, as well as gender, race, and whether they have a disability) and a Social Mobility white paper is expected early in the New Year.