The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is a key feature of the Equality Act 2010 and an essential tool to achieve this legislation’s objectives of eliminating discrimination, advancing equality and fostering good relations in a society which, as highlighted by the 2011 Census, is becoming increasingly diverse. Nonetheless, the purpose and effectiveness of the duty are being questioned by the coalition government through inclusion in their ‘Red-Tape Challenge’ review.
An analysis of the evidence submitted by various groups and organisations to the Government’s call to assess the effectiveness of the PSED clearly shows that the duty is working. Evidence includes a joint submission by disability charities highlighting how a requirement to involve disabled people in decision-making has proven crucial for delivering inclusive services. The charities show how involving disabled people in the planning for substantial regeneration work ensures access requirements are considered at outset, avoiding potential expensive retrofitting. Stonewall’s response also lists a number of examples where the duty has shaped local authorities’ initiatives to tackle incidents of homophobic bullying. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner argue that the PSED is needed to tackle equality issues uncovered by their investigations on children living in poverty and children and young people being subjected to bullying and harassment. More generally, the Citizens Advice Bureau has extensive contact with public bodies to deal with clients’ needs around debt, housing, welfare and education, and emphasises the importance of the PSED for informing decision-making and practical solutions so that services and decisions empower consumers and meet their needs. They argue that there is “a very positive story to be told about the PSED and that it makes a real difference where it matters on the ground”. Evidence presented about the success of the PSED in driving equality and inclusion strategies also includes the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). This shows how, through public procurement, equality objectives can have a positive effect on communities and local economies by increasing business opportunities for SMEs and local employers.
More recently the PSED was invoked by Amnesty International UK, Refugee Action and Freedom from Torture to challenge the Home Office ‘go home’ campaign targeting illegal immigrants. In a letter to the Guardian published on 9th August they denounced this campaign as likely to generate ”hostility and intolerance” in our communities pointing out the Home Office’s legal obligations to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations.
All this demonstrates the importance of the PSED in promoting the changes needed to advance equality and foster good relations within our society but also in keeping public authorities accountable for their actions. Finally, the review of the PSED should not be considered in isolation but seen as part of a wider government discussion calling into question the Human Rights Act which makes the case for a robust framework of equality legislation even more compelling.
By Professor Simonetta Manfredi and Kate Clayton-Hathway, PhD student and Research Assistant at the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice, Oxford Brookes University. The Centre is compiling a report on empirical evidence for the PSED: please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a copy.