Thursday, 31 March 2011

Public bodies have duties to demonstrate that they are taking action on aspects of equality in policy-making

The March 2001 Equality and Human Rights News arrived in our email in box today.

One of the topics is - "New regulations coming into force early!" Public Sector Duties - Public bodies have duties to demonstrate that they are taking action on aspects of equality in policy-making, delivering services and employment. Under the Equality Act, previous duties will soon be replaced by one new Equality Duty Changes to commencement of PSED general and specific duties On the 18 March 2011 the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has announced that the government’s draft regulations on the specific duties for England (and non-devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales) are to be revised and therefore will not become law on 6 April, as originally envisaged.

The specific duties – which are different for all three nations – are intended to help public authorities meet the general equality duty. GEO has also announced that the commencement date for the new general equality duty for England, Scotland and Wales will be 5 April 2011. You can read the full announcement on the GEO website. The general duty requires public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations across all of the characteristics protected by the Equality Act 2010.

These include the existing characteristics of race, disability and gender as well as some new characteristics, including age, sexual orientation, and religion or belief. The Commission has published guidance that includes advice about meeting the general equality duty. It is essential that all public authorities understand the effect of their policies and practices, to assist them to comply with the general equality duty. This revision of the specific duties may create a degree of uncertainty for public authorities.

The Commission previously set out its views on the previous draft regulations and we will review the new proposals before submitting our views to the GEO. We support the aim to reduce bureaucracy and we will need to examine the new proposals closely to make sure that they offer organisations certainty; without that certainty public bodies will simply replace bureaucratic procedures with legalistic overprotection to guard against every possible source of challenge. Our focus remains on providing public authorities with the information and guidance that they need to prepare for the new equality duty.

In light of the new proposals we will be reviewing our non-statutory guidance on the equality duty as soon as we can. Further queries from public authorities in England (and non-devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales) should be directed to our helpline for England: 0845 604 6610 The Scottish Government is currently reconsidering its proposals for specific duties in Scotland, and so it is not yet clear when these will come into force. Read Scotland's interim advice on the Equality Act Scottish Specific Duties for more information.

Regulations to bring in the Welsh duties have been laid. If passed by the Assembly, they will come into force on 6th April 2011. Further queries from public authorities for Scotland or Wales should be directed to the relevant national helpline: Scotland: 0845 604 5510 Wales: 0845 604 8810

More News from The Equality and Human Rights Commission -Government consults on the Commission’s powers and duties

22 March 2011

In response to the Government’s consultation on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s powers and duties, its chair Trevor Phillips, said: “The Commission began its own review of its role and focus around 18 months ago, before the review of non-departmental bodies by government. We are already talking to our stakeholders about our vision for the Commission’s future and will continue to do so during this consultation and beyond.

Our priorities reflect changes in the equality landscape and the evidence we have been gathering about where our work is most needed, such as those identified in our review of equality 'How Fair is Britain'. We are confident that this will allow us to deliver maximum impact and value for public money.

“We plan to respond quickly to this consultation on our powers and duties so that other organisations are aware of our view of our future. While it is too soon to comment on the Government's proposals in detail, we are concerned that the removal of our good relations mandate may prevent us from being able to do many practical things at a time when community relations are under particular strain.

"A critical aspect in our move to becoming an effective, high-impact regulator will be updating our approach to threats to equality such as the English Defence League. Now is the moment for us to focus and intensify our efforts in this area, not to abandon them." Source: Equality and Human Rights Commission

See also:Government U-Turn on Equality Duties may reduce need for Diversity Specialists

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