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A number of Acts were created between 1970 and 2007 to promote equality, such as the Race Relations Act 1976, these have now been consolidated into the Equality Act 2010, to harmonise the law in this area.
The current UK legislation’s goal is to promote equality and diversity between people from different groups and backgrounds, and aims to eliminate discrimination. But for minor exceptions, the Equality Act 2010 does not apply to Northern Ireland. The equality legislation in Northern Ireland is currently unconsolidated, meaning there is not an ‘individual’ piece of legislation that applies however, the main anti-discrimination provision is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
Equality is ensuring that every individual possesses the same rights and has equal opportunities. The Equality Act 2010 recognises that certain groups of people have experienced inequality and discrimination, and aims to prohibit employers, education providers and service providers from discriminating against those groups of people.
The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against another because of certain characteristics relating to:
- Gender reassignment
- Marriage and civil partnerships
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Religion and belief
- Sexual orientation
The Equality Act 2010 applied a Public Sector Equality Duty to public bodies. This requires public bodies to advance equality and eliminate inequality and discrimination. Public bodies must ensure that any policy they introduce, or service they offer, is equal and fair. Their duties extend to preventing discrimination in schools and academies as they must address issues of prejudice, harassment, disadvantage and lack of participation for individuals with protected characteristics.
In further attempts to improve Equality in the UK, a number of additional actions have been taken:
The UK Government launched a national LGBT survey in 2017 which highlighted a variety of areas where improvement could be made to support the LGBT community. In light of this, the UK Government has created a comprehensive LGBT Action Plan setting out how lives of LGBT people can be improved in society. For example, the Government intends to take further action on LGBT hate crime and extend the anti-homophobic and transphobic bullying programme in schools. Furthermore, The Government Equalities Office announced the intention to consult on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 to see how the legal gender recognition process can be made less bureaucratic and intrusive. View the LGBT Action Plan here: LGBT Action Plan 2018.
The law on equal pay is set out in the Equality Act 2010. The Act gives a right to equal pay between women and men for equal work, ensuring that a woman's contractual terms are no less favourable than a man's.
Under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, all companies in Britain (excluding Northern Ireland) with more than 250 employees were required to report their gender pay gap to the Government by April 2018. The gender pay gap is the difference between the average hourly earnings of men and women. This is the first time ever that the pay differences between men and women in the UK have been disclosed and are now publicly available.
The UK Government recognised that significant inequalities persist in the UK in regards to childcare responsibilities, with women in the UK carrying out a disproportionate amount of childcare duties in comparison to men. Shared Parental Leave was introduced by the Government in 2015 and enables eligible mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed with them for adoption. In addition, Shared Parental Pay may be available to parents if eligible. The Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014 applies to the United Kingdom.
The Care Act 2014 places a duty on English Local Authorities to assess and support any adult with care and support needs. This legislation ensures individuals have assistance in their day to day life by way of housing options and services available to meet their needs. Advice and guidance is also available to carers.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 is designed to protect and empower individuals who may lack the mental capacity to make informed decisions regarding their care and treatment. The act requires that all practicable steps be taken to help a person make a decision before they are treated as lacking capacity to make that decision.
The Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) began operation in 2012 and is an advisory service that provides expert information, guidance and support on discrimination and human rights issues. The EASS helpline can assist individuals who believe they may have experienced discrimination. The service provides an advice helpline to assists individuals on discrimination issues by providing information regarding legal rights and remedies.
Despite the many positive steps towards equality, there are still some areas where improvements to improve equality are needed. Listed below are some facts about the current society:
- Women are still earning significantly less that men. The recent disclosure of pay data by companies has shown that there is an average pay gap of 9.7% within each sector.
- The Office for National Statistics suggests the richest 10% get almost 30% of gross income in the UK.
- The Resolution Foundation found that Bangladeshi and Pakistani graduates are about 12% less likely to be employed than white British graduates.
- The Race Disparity Audit shows that amongst non-medical staff in the NHS in England, only 7% of very senior managers and 11% of senior managers were from an ethnic minority group.
Republic of Ireland: The Equality Act 2010 does not apply to the Republic of Ireland. The main anti-discrimination laws in Ireland are The Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015, Equal Status Acts 2000 – 2015 and the National Disability Authority Act 1999.
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