by David Isaac
Published: 20 Dec 2018
Every year that passes brings its own unique challenges, but 2018 has surpassed all expectations. The Brexit debate has never been far from the headlines and has understandably dominated the agenda, though we have also worked hard to ensure that the nation doesn’t lose sight of the many other important domestic challenges that we face.
As we marked our 10th anniversary, we used the opportunity to shine a light on equality and human rights issues in Britain today. I'm confident that we succeeded.
Protecting people’s rights
We used our voice to protect disabled people’s essential right to independent living, highlighting the chronic shortage of accessible housing in Britain and the effect this has on people’s day-to-day lives. Concluding a major 18-month inquiry, we urged government to produce a national strategy to ensure an adequate supply of houses is built to inclusive design standards.
Women’s equality was a huge focus of our attention following on from the emergence of the #metoo movement in 2017. We have rightly been central to the public debate on women’s rights, particularly sexual harassment, as we published our biggest ever review of women’s rights in Britain. We called for more action to protect women and girls from violence, and developed specific recommendations for tackling sexual harassment in the workplace based on evidence and examples of best practice from almost 1,000 individuals and employers. We’re delighted to see our recommendations taken forward and next year we will be working with government to develop a new statutory code of practice to protect employees from harassment at work.
This work coincided with the first year of mandatory gender pay gap reporting in Britain. As the enforcer, our team spent a busy spring working with the Government Equalities Office to promote the new legislation and to carry out early enforcement work to target organisations that failed to meet the reporting deadline. After an important national debate about pay gaps, we were proud to announce that all organisations with over 250 staff had made their figures public. Reporting has already had huge impact in the workplace and I am confident that it has created a debate and mechanism for employers to report on some other protected characteristics too.
Working internationally and at home on LGBTI rights
On the international stage, we took on the role of Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions. This is an exciting project, in which we are supporting a diverse network of counterpart organisations in our collective efforts to champion LGBTI rights around the world. Closer to home, I’m also proud to welcome the announcement that Scotland will become the first country to have a fully LGBTI inclusive education for all children and young people in schools, colleges and workplace learning environments. This is a result of the fantastic efforts of grassroots campaigners including Time For Inclusive Education, LGBT Youth Scotland and Stonewall Scotland, and we were pleased to support the development of recommendations as part of the Scottish Government LGBTI Inclusive Education working group.
Improving facilities for disabled people at Premier League clubs
As well as leading on national strategy we are also having an impact on the provision of local facilities for people around the country. Thanks to our work with Premier League clubs, there are now more than 700 new wheelchair user spaces at football stadiums across the UK, and Manchester United has also announced multi-million pound improvements to facilities for disabled supporters at Old Trafford. It’s also encouraging to report that so many clubs are supporting their disabled fans and delivering real change.
Using our legal powers
I am also delighted that our legal team is using our legal powers more than ever. They have taken many more strategic cases this year than ever before. A stand-out win for me was our success at the Supreme Court in a landmark case that will further the rights of thousands of ‘gig economy’ workers to holiday pay and other benefits. Gary Smith, who was employed as an ‘independent contractor’ by Pimlico Plumbers needed to work reduced hours following a heart attack. The courts and employment tribunal agreed that he should be protected by equality law, setting an important precedent for future cases in this area.
Our legal muscle was not just evident in the courts. Through early enforcement, we can and do make a huge difference. Our early intervention work with clinical commissioning groups on care for disabled people led to an immediate review of discriminatory practices and shows just how effective this approach can be.
Using research to influence government and drive change
2018 has also been a very big year for our research team. The publication of our state-of-the-nation review of equality and human rights: ‘Is Britain Fairer?’ is always a mammoth undertaking. This year’s report is the culmination of an immense amount of work, and provides an essential evidence base for governments, regulators and charities to set the agenda on equality and human rights in Britain. We have made important recommendations to drive change and have also identified areas where real progress has been made.
We’re already seeing the significance of this work in Wales. We launched our ‘Is Wales Fairer?’ companion report at an event at the Welsh Assembly attended by the UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty. Our research will, I hope, impact at the highest levels in governments and will provide an important evidence base to drive progress in 2019.
The year ahead
As part of our New Year plans we are consulting on our latest Strategic Plan to set our priorities for the next three years. We are asking for feedback on where we should focus our efforts to advance equality, remove barriers to opportunity, and protect the rights of people in the most vulnerable situations. I’m looking forward to hearing what people have to say about how we plan to deliver real impact.
In 2019 we will also be pressing ahead with a number of major projects including our recently-launched inquiry into racial harassment in higher education, our work on access to justice for discrimination cases and our human rights review of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
And finally, next year will be a landmark year for Britain as we work to define the country we want to be on leaving the European Union. Despite current divisions and uncertainties, our position remains clear – when we leave the EU there should be absolutely no regression in equality and human rights protections in Great Britain.
We have an important role to play in ensuring equality and human rights are embedded in the nation’s future. And so, as it’s the time of year for resolutions, my pledge is that we continue our work with renewed determination to make Britain a country where everyone gets an equal chance to thrive. We will continue to defend our nation’s values of justice, freedom and compassion.
I hope you all have a happy Christmas and New Year.