by Max Edelstyn
Published: 22 Apr 2023
The origins of the Public Sector Equality Duty
The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) was introduced in 2011. It replaced the separate race, disability and sex equality duties. The first of these, the race equality duty, was introduced in 2001. It was the result of a recommendation from the Macpherson Report on the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The report found that there was institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police.
The race equality duty was introduced to make sure that public bodies considered race equality in all areas of their work. The PSED extends this protection to across the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act. Compliance with the PSED helps to prevent discrimination by advancing equality and good relations.
The use and impact of the PSED
Most public bodies take the equality duty seriously and use it to design the best possible services. In some cases, members of the public may challenge public bodies if they believe that the duty has not been followed. These challenges are normally resolved without the need for formal legal action. Some cases do go to court. The PSED is always evolving to reflect the developments in the case law.
In recent years, people have used the PSED to challenge many different decisions. These include the closure of local public libraries and changes in funding for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) in schools. The PSED has also been used to challenge how a police force used live facial recognition technology. The court found that the potential bias of the software system had not been properly assessed. The PSED has also been used to challenge major decisions taken by government ministers.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the regulator of the PSED. We can take action where we find that public bodies are not compliant with the duty. Our regulatory work includes producing guidance and delivering training and support. As part of this, we have published an updated version of our technical guidance on the PSED. The new guidance clarifies how the recent PSED case law practically impacts the requirements for public bodies.
The PSED is not a barrier for public bodies. It should help them to make the best possible decisions, based on an understanding of their likely impact.
To read our updated guidance on the PSED, see the links to the documents under the 'Related content' section of this page.