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Public Sector Equality Duty — Delivering The Government’s Objectives For Public Services

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The Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Yearbook is currently gathering news items for major features on diversity and inclusiveness in the next edition.

On 5 April 2011, the public sector Equality Duty came into force. The duty was introduced via the Equality Act 2010. It covers age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity, and gender reassignment.

Developing and implementing the policy requires public bodies to have ‘due regard’ for the following:

• Eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Equality Act 2010

• Advance equality of opportunity

• Foster good relations between people from different groups.

The Equality Duty is designed to support good decision-making. The term ‘due regard’ refers to consideration of how public bodies’ activities affects different people. It is intended to ensure that policies and services are accessible and appropriate to all.

The duty applies to those bodies listed in Schedule 19 of the Equality Act 2010 and includes key public authorities such as local authorities, health, education, transport, police, armed forces and central government departments. The list includes many of the bodies currently covered by the race, disability and gender equality duties. Additionally, any private body that carries out public functions as well as private will be subject to the general duty, albeit with regard to the public function only.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is responsible for encouraging and, where necessary, enforcing compliance, with both the Commission and affected persons having the right to apply to the High Court for a judicial review in matters where compliance with the general duty are in dispute.

The position of the government is that public bodies should be accountable to their service users; they need to be open about the information that they have used on which decisions are based, the objectives that they are seeking to achieve and the results.

Since 6 April 2011, the requirement to develop or publish an equality scheme will no longer be applicable. Some public bodies may continue to do so, however, if they consider it to be a useful tool to improve transparency and communication about equality outcomes. The new regulations emphasise the importance of ‘equality analysis’ rather than ‘equality impact assessment’. In other words, quality of analysis and its use in decision-making is more valuable than producing a document, which some may consider to be the end result itself.

Nevertheless, public bodies are required to be transparent in their response to the Equality Duty and towards this end publish relevant information that demonstrates compliance and equality objectives set.

Collecting evidence on sexual orientation as a means of assessing the impact that policies and practices may have on individuals is one area of concern, but, it is argued, that evidence gathering and analysis serves to mitigate the possibility of developing policy on the basis of assumptions. Public bodies in this respect are advised to explain clearly why they require the data and assure recipients that strict confidentiality will be observed at all times.

Understanding how different people will be affected by their policies will, it is believed, help public bodies to become more efficient and effective and will, in turn, contribute to the government’s objectives to improve public services.

This feature will be updated by the Parliamentary Information Office of the Parliamentary Yearbook as policy and legislation develops

This was submitted by the Parliamentary Information Office

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