Harriet Harman today published the Equality Bill which will make Britain stronger, fairer and more equal.
The Equality Bill sets out groundbreaking new laws which will help narrow the gap between rich and poor; require business to report on gender pay; outlaw age discrimination; and will significantly strengthen Britain's anti-discrimination legislation.
The Bill will simplify the law which, over the last four decades, has become complex and difficult to navigate. Nine major pieces of legislation and around 100 other measures will be replaced by a single Act written in plain English to make it easier for individuals and employers to understand their legal rights and obligations.
Despite considerable progress since 1997, inequality and discrimination still exist which is why the law needs to be strengthened.
- Women are paid on average 23 per cent less per hour than men;
- Disabled people are twice as likely to be out of work;
- People from ethnic minority backgrounds are nearly a fifth less likely to find work;
- One in five older people are refused quotes for motor or travel insurance, or car hire.
- The Equality Bill is expected to come in to force from autumn 2010.
Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, said:
"The Equality Bill is part of building a strong fair future for Britain out of the downturn. That means fairness and opportunity. Especially in tougher economic times, we need to face the problems fairly and we need to look for a fairer future.
"Though we have ensured new rights and opportunities for disabled people, for women, black and Asian people and older people - there is still unfairness and discrimination to tackle. And this Bill will take the action necessary to tackle it.
"Today we publish our tough new Equality Bill, promised in our manifesto, building on our actions over the last 10 years. It will make Britain a more equal place, and help us build a stronger economy and fairer society for the future.
"We will shine the spotlight in every workplace on the hidden pay discrimination against women.
"We will let employers have the right to choose to diversify their team - with positive action.
"And we will end the last lawful discrimination - which is against older people."
"But we know that inequality is grounded not just in gender, race, disability, age and sexual orientation - but also by class. Your family or the place you were born. So we will require public bodies when they make strategic decisions to help narrow the gap between rich and poor.
"If there are unequal societies marred by prejudice and discrimination, then people feel excluded, the economy does not flourish, communities feel resentful, so you don't have a society which is at ease with itself.
"That's why equality is vital - not only important for the individual, but for society and the economy."
James Purnell, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:
"The Government wants to make sure each person gets the help and support they need to overcome their barriers to work, fulfill their potential and build a better life for themselves and their families.
"The Equality Bill will work hand in hand with our welfare reforms to ensure everyone, whether disabled or non-disabled, young or older, is given the opportunity to make a full contribution to society.
"We will not leave people to cope on their own, without the help they need, especially those people least able to compete in a downturn."
The Equality Bill will strengthen our equality law by:
- Introducing a new public sector duty to consider reducing socio-economic inequalities;
- Putting a new Equality Duty on public bodies;
- Using public procurement to improve equality;
- Banning age discrimination outside the workplace;
- Introducing gender pay reports;
- Extending the scope to use positive action;
- Strengthening the powers of employment tribunals;
- Protecting carers from discrimination;
- Offering new mothers stronger protection when breastfeeding;
- Banning discrimination in private clubs; and
- Strengthening protection from discrimination for disabled people.
Vera Baird, Solicitor General and Minister who is taking the Equality Bill through the House, said:
"Society is better when it's equal. It's about getting the best out of everybody by making opportunity available whatever characteristics they have.
"The Government is committed to creating a more equal society with fair chances for everyone, that's why we have today published the Equality Bill, which will clarify and strengthen the law.
"Employers will no longer be able to rely on keeping their pay structure secret. We will ban secrecy clauses in employment contracts, so that women can challenge unfair pay. And we will encourage businesses to report on gender pay, but let us make no mistake: if voluntary measures do not work, we will take stronger measures to ensure equal pay for women."
Maria Eagle MP, Deputy Minister for Women and Equality said,
"Everyone has the right to be treated fairly and to have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
"The Equality Bill announced today is a major step towards tackling unfairness and discrimination and will make Britain stronger, fairer and more equal.
"It significantly simplifies legislation, to make it easier for individuals and employers to understand their legal rights and obligations. It also strengthens the law. Employers will no longer be able to hide gender pay discrimination and public bodies will have to seriously consider how they can actively close the gap between rich and poor."
Community Cohesion Minster Sadiq Khan said:
"I welcome the Equalities Bill it will strengthen and simplify the current law, setting out the rights of individuals and groups.
"In the current climate it is more crucial than ever to have safeguards in place to protect our communities. Discrimination of any type should not be tolerated. The bill will aim to remove barriers of opportunity for the most vulnerable in our communities and outline guidance that employers and individuals can take forward.
"As a government we have a role in ensuring that the diversity which is a real strength of this country is successfully managed and the bill should pave the way to achieve these plans".
More details of the Equality Bill are in "A Fairer Future" which can be viewed at: www.equalities.gov.uk/
What is in the Equality Bill
Everyone in society, not just the poor, is adversely affected by inequality. Inequality leads to shorter, unhealthier, and unhappier lives, and increases violence and social problems. And diversity leads to increased productivity and profitability. Equal societies benefit everyone.
The Equality Bill will:
- Make Britain more equal, and help build a stronger society and economy for the future.
- Significantly strengthen and streamline discrimination legislation, replacing nine major pieces of legislation and about 100 other measures, spanning some forty years.
- Require key public bodies to seriously consider what action they can take to reduce the socio-economic inequalities people face; ban age discrimination outside the workplace against people aged 18 and over; require organizations to report on gender pay; among other things.
- The majority of the Equality Bill will be brought in to force in autumn 2010.
Social Economic Duty
- Inequality is not just about your gender, race, disability, age, or sexual orientation. It is also about social class - your family background or where you were born.
- By the age of six, bright children from poor families are overtaken by less able children from wealthier families.
- The Equality Bill will put a new duty on Government Ministers, departments and key public bodies (such as Local Authorities, Primary Care Trusts, Police or Education Authorities) to consider what action they can take to reduce the socio-economic inequality people face when making strategic decisions about spending and services. It would not affect front line decisions about individuals.
- For example, poorer people tend to suffer greater ill health, so a Strategic Health Authority may target health advice or smoking cessation services at deprived areas. However a hospital would not for example have to prioritize an operation on a person from a deprived area.
- Many public bodies already do this; this duty will mean the others will now have to catch-up.
- Inspectorates (such as Audit Commission) will check for compliance.
Gender pay reports
- Inequality cannot be tackled if it is hidden. The Equality Bill will shine a spotlight on gender pay discrimination, workplace by workplace, so problems can be identified and action taken.
- Across the country women are paid on average nearly a quarter less than men. In some sectors such as financial services the gender pay gap is acute. A recent inquiry by the EHRC found that in financial services, women are paid up to 60 per cent less than men and 79 per cent less in bonuses.
- The Bill will contain a power to require reporting on the gender pay gap by employers with 250 or more employees. However the Government has committed not to use this power before 2013 and it will only be used if sufficient progress on reporting has not been made.The Equality and Human Rights Commission will develop a set of metrics for gender pay reports in consultation with business, unions and others over the summer. The Commission will monitor progress on reporting within the private sector annually.
- Public bodies (such as Local Councils, hospitals and police forces) with more than 150 employees will be required to report on gender pay, as well as other equality data such as number of disabled or Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees. This will allow similar authorities to be compared so we can see where progress has been made and share best practice. Details will be consulted on over the summer.
- Nearly a quarter of employers ban their staff talking about their wages, with women more likely to be in the dark about colleagues' pay than men. The Equality Bill will ban 'secrecy clauses' so that work colleagues can compare wages if they want, and challenge employers who unlawfully pay them less.
Banning age discrimination
- Older people must not be written off or denied access to medical treatment, financial insurance, or other goods and services because of their age. It's important that they play a full role in society and are treated fairly.
- The Equality Bill will ban age discrimination against people aged 18 and over outside of the workplace, where goods are bought, and services provided, such as in shops, hospitals, and when buying financial products (it is already banned in the workplace).
- Things that are beneficial, such as free bus passes, will still be allowed.
- This is particularly important as the population ages: by 2050, over half of the UK's population will be over 50 years old. The number of people aged over 85 will double in the next twenty years.
- The ban could mean that an older person is offered lifestyle advice after suffering a heart attack, which may currently only be offered to younger people, or that the price an older lady pays for travel insurance is based on actual risk she faces, rather than an arbitrary age-based fixed cost.
- Specifics will be consulted on this summer. The Government will bring the new law into force more quickly in sectors which are ready to comply, from 2012.
- The Equality Bill will allow employers to choose to take positive action to appoint a person from an under-represented group, provided candidates are equally suitable, and so balance things out if they want to.
- Evidence shows that people from some groups, for whatever reason, do not get the same opportunities as others - despite having similar qualifications. For example, only:
- Only three High Court Judges are from an ethnic minority;
- Less than a fifth of University Vice Chancellors are women;
- Less than twelve per cent of board directors in the UK's top 100 companies are women; and
- Not a single elected Member of Parliament is an Asian women.
- Some businesses want to increase the diversity of their workforces, perhaps to access new markets, gain fresh insights, or get a difference perspective.
- It makes sense for local organizations and public bodies to reflect and so better understand the communities they serve.
- The most suitable person must still get the job - the merit principle still applies.
- Positive action will be entirely optional, and is absolutely not about quotas.
- Business benefits of a diverse workforce include increased efficiency and productivity, attracting new business, increased understanding of customers' needs, and filling skills gaps.
- For example, a business may want to increase the number of women on its board. A recent study in France showed that a higher proportion of female managers reduced the volatility of a business's share price. Last year, when almost all shares fell, it found that the fewer women managers a company had, the greater was the drop in its share price.
- Fortune 500 firms with more women on the board outperform their rivals and are more profitable.
- The Equality Bill will allow political parties to continue to use All Women Short-lists to select parliamentary candidates until 2030 - at least another five general elections.
- Positive discrimination (employing someone because of a characteristic regardless of merit) will remain illegal.
- The CBI, TUC, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission support positive action.
Private members clubs
- Nobody should be treated as a second class citizens - whether a women, disabled, black or Asian, or gay.
- So the Equality Bill will ban private members' clubs from discriminating against members or their guests, for example a golf club cannot bar a women from playing on certain days, while allowing male members to play whenever they like.
- People would be outraged if disabled or Black people were only allowed to play in their local golf club on certain days, so why should women be restricted
- We recognize that there are benefits to clubs with 'shared characteristic', so same sex clubs, gay associations, clubs for people of a particular religion, etc, will still be allowed.
New Equality Duty on the public sector
- Public bodies already have duties to consider how their spending decisions, employment practices, and services they provide affect people according to their race, disability, or gender.
- The Equality Bill will replace these with a new streamlined and strengthened Equality Duty, which will be extended to also cover sexual orientation, gender reassignment, age, and religion or belief, so that people get fairer opportunities and better public services.
- For example, a town planner might use drop-down kerbs and accessible public toilets for wheelchair users, or the council provide extra park benches in local parks, so that older people can benefit from public spaces as well as younger people.
- The public sector spends £175 billion every year on goods and services provided by the private sector. Nearly a third of firms sell goods or services to the public sector.
- The Equality Bill will make it clear that public bodies can use procurement to drive equality when they are buying goods and services from private sector firms. This will be consulted on over the summer.
- For example, a council commissioning a construction project for a social regeneration scheme could require the contractor to run a positive action program to train women in under-represented areas such as plumbing or carpentry, or pre-qualification criteria could be stated.
Strengthening employment tribunals
- Employment Tribunals can currently make recommendations to organizations to improve work practices - but only in relation to the individual who brought a case, who often ends up leaving anyway.
- The Equality Bill will allow tribunals to make wider recommendations to firms, which can benefit everybody in the workforce and help prevent similar types of discrimination happening again.
Protecting Carers From Discrimination
- It is currently unlawful to discriminate against or harass someone because they are 'linked to' or 'associated with' a person who is of another sexual orientation, race, or religion or belief (e.g. if an employer discriminates against an employee because she is married to an Asian man that will be unlawful).
- The Equality Bill will extend this to age, disability, sex, or gender reassignment (e.g. protecting the carer of a disabled person).
- An employer could not refuse to promote a member of staff just because he cares for an older relative.
- The Equality Bill will cover England, Scotland, and Wales. Northern Ireland has its own equality legislation.
- The Equality Bill will replace the Equal Pay Act 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, much of the Equality Act 2006, the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006, and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 (where applicable, as subsequently amended), plus other ancillary pieces of legislation.
- The National Equality Panel is independent and consists of academic experts in inequality. It is chaired by leading academic Professor John Hills and is analyzing how people's life chances are affected by factors such as where they were born and family background, as well as gender, race, and whether they have a disability. It will provide the Government with an authoritative analysis of inequality in Britain by the end of 2009.
- Last summer's 'Framework for a Fairer Future - The Equality Bill' and the Government's response to the Discrimination Law Review can be downloaded from www.equalities.gov.uk/
- The Government is publishing its new aging strategy later this year, which is looking at creating an age friendly society, preparing for and living well in later life, as well as making sure stronger protection and support is available: www.dwp.gov.uk/aging-society/preparing/
- The Government Equalities Office is responsible for the Government's overall strategy, legislation and priorities on equality issues. It was established in October 2007.
- The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of the Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission, and Equal Opportunities Commission as well as taking on new responsibilities for sexual orientation, religion or belief, age and human rights. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote human rights.