The majority of the provisions under UK’s new Equality Act comes into force today (1st October 2010), with the rest being phased in by 2013. Previous separate legislations- (such as the Sex Discrimination Act (1975), the Race Relations Act (1976), the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) – were considered complex and the slow progress on some issues of inequality and discrimination has been cited as proof that segregated legal frameworks were not working. Under the new act groups (on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex (meaning gender) and sexual orientation) are provided the same levels of protection from discrimination across all the protected characteristics and all sectors.
Key changes include:
- Protecting people from discrimination in the recruitment process. The Act makes it unlawful for employers to ask job applicants questions about disability or health before making a job offer, except in specified circumstances.
- Protecting people discriminated against because they are perceived to have, or are associated with someone who has, a protected characteristic. The Equality Act will protect people who are, for example, caring for a disabled child or relative. They will be protected by virtue of their association to that person.
- Extending the equality duty to require the public sector to take into account the needs of all protected groups (except marital and civil partnership status). The new Equality Duty will require public authorities to consider the needs of all the protected groups in, for example, employment and when designing and delivering services. Although timescales for this Duty are still to be confirmed.
- Changing the definition of gender reassignment, by removing the requirement for medical supervision.
- Extending protection in private clubs to sex, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment.
For an Equality Act 2010 Starter Kit visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
For a more comprehensive list of changes visit the Government Equalities Office website.