One of the more offensive acts of this government has been to put the Equalities Act 2010 up as a topic for debate on its ‘Red Tape Challenge’ website.
Housing organisations have been at the forefront of promoting good policy in equalities and diversity for many years – the latest evidence being CIH’s publication this month of its guide to delivering housing services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers – and should be ready to make the case for the retention of the Act in its entirety, together with its supporting regulations.
The 2010 Equalities Act – summarised here – pulled together the previous diverse strands of discrimination and equalities law into a coherent whole and added new duties and responsibilities. It harmonised the legislation to provide a single approach wherever possible.
Extensions included the new duty on public bodies to consider socio-economic disadvantage when making strategic decisions, wider definitions of discrimination, harassment and victimisation, stronger duties to help eliminate conduct which the Act prohibits, to advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people who share a relevant protected characteristic and people who do not, the use of positive action, amendments to family property law to remove discriminatory provisions and additional statutory property rights for civil partners.
What has caused so much offence is that all the other topics posted on the Red Tape Challenge website seem to involve changes to regulations whereas the equalities topic invites comment on the entire Act, which is of course primary legislation only recently passed by Parliament.
That is not to say that the other topics are unimportant – the website reads like a list of all the things where more not less regulation is probably needed (eg Major Hazard Industries, Biodiversity, Pensions).
It is worth a look at the comments contributed to the Red Tape website on equalities. It is pleasing to note the relative lack of hateful comments (compared to many website discussions on this topic) and the many positive and supportive comments.
So what is the government up to? The equalities website says that the government’s approach is as follows: “We do not want public bodies to have to show people these things: how they worked out whether their rules and services were fair; what they looked at when they checked that their rules and services were fair; who they involved when they were working out their equality goals; how they were going to check whether they had met their goals. We will not make public bodies tell us how they will work out how they are going to check that they are meeting their goals. This is because it will not help public bodies make equality better.”
Accusations of ‘red tape’ and ‘box ticking’ are often little more than a back door attack on the purpose of the regulations themselves. I suspect this is exactly what is happening on equalities. The whole housing sector should be watchful.