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The Equality Act 2010

The primary purpose of the Act is to consolidate the complicated and numerous Acts and Regulations, which formed the basis of anti-discrimination law in Great Britain. This was, primarily, the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and three major statutory instruments protecting discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation and age. This legislation has the same goals as the four major EU Equal Treatment Directives, whose provisions it mirrors and implements.

Protected Characteristics

The Act requires equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services, regardless of the protected characteristics of: 

  • age,

  • pregnancy and maternity

  • disability,

  • gender reassignment,

  • marriage and civil partnership,

  • race,

  • religion or belief, 

  • sex, and

  • sexual orientation.

Public sector Equality Duty

The public sector Equality Duty came into force across Great Britain on 5 April 2011.

The public sector Equality Duty consists of a general Equality Duty, which is set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 itself, and specific duties which are imposed by secondary legislation.

The General Equality Duty

The general equality duty is set out in the Equality Act 2010

In summary, those subject to the equality duty must, in the exercise of their functions, have due regard to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act.

  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

These are sometimes referred to as the three aims or arms of the general equality duty. The Act explains that having due regard for advancing equality involves:

  • Removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics.

  • Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people.

  • Encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low.

The Act states that meeting different needs involves taking steps to take account of disabled people’s disabilities. It describes fostering good relations as tackling prejudice and promoting understanding between people from different groups. It states that compliance with the duty may involve treating some people more favourably than others.

Public authorities also need to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination against someone because of their marriage or civil partnership status. This means that the first arm of the duty applies to this characteristic but that the others arms (advancing equality and fostering good relations) do not apply.

Specific duties

The specific duties help public bodies perform the Equality Duty better. They do this by requiring public bodies to be transparent about how they are responding to the Equality Duty, quiring them to publish relevant, proportionate information showing compliance with the Equality Duty, and to set equality objectives. The Government believes that public bodies should be accountable to their service users.  Publishing information about decision-making and the equality data which underpins those decisions will open public bodies up to informed public scrutiny. It will give the public the information they need to challenge public bodies and hold them to account for their performance on equality. Moreover, knowing that such information will be published will help to focus the minds of decision-makers on giving proper consideration to equality issues.

Publication of information

Each public authority must publish information to demonstrate its compliance with the General Equality duty imposed by section 149(1) of the Act not later than 31st January 2012; and subsequently at intervals of not greater than one year beginning with the date of last publication.

The information published must include, in particular, information relating to persons who share a relevant protected characteristic who are:

(a) its employees;

(b) other persons affected by its policies and practices.

Equality Objectives

Each public authority must prepare and publish one or more objectives it thinks it should achieve to meet the general equality duty

The objectives must be published not later than 6th April 2012; and subsequently at intervals of not greater than four years beginning with the date of last publication and must be specific and measurable.

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