Creating a fairer Britain
On 5 April 2011, the public sector equality duty came into force. The equality duty was created under the Equality Act 2010.
The equality duty consists of a general equality duty, with three main aims (set out in section 149 of the Equality Act 2010) and specific duties (to be set out in regulations). The equality duty covers the following protected characteristics: age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation. It also covers marriage or civil partnerships, but not for all aims of the duty.
The equality duty replaces the race, disability and gender equality duties. The first of these duties, the race equality duty in 2001, came out of the Macpherson Report on the murder of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence. Following failures of the investigation of Lawrence’s murder, the report revealed institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police. It was clear that a radical rethink was needed in the approach that public sector organisations were taking towards addressing discrimination and racism.
Prior to the introduction of the race equality duty, the emphasis of equality legislation was on rectifying cases of discrimination and harassment after they occurred, not preventing them happening in the first place. The race equality duty was designed to shift the onus from individuals to organisations, placing for the first time an obligation on public authorities to positively promote equality, not merely to avoid discrimination.
Following the introduction of the race duty, it was clear that progress could also be made on other areas of equality through the introduction of similar duties. The disability equality duty came into force in 2006, followed by the gender equality duty in 2007.
The equality duty was developed in order to harmonise the equality duties and to extend it across the protected characteristics.