In the dying days of the last Labour government, the landmark Equality Act was passed. The Act is scheduled to be implemented in October.
What is the Equality Act?
It is intended to narrow the gap between rich and poor by imposing a legal duty on public bodies, including central government and local authorities, to consider the impact their strategic decisions have on fairness and socio-economic inequality.
The Act will also require businesses to report on gender pay; allow businesses to positively discriminate in recruiting and promoting people from under-represented minority groups (as long as they are as well qualified for the job as the other candidates); and significantly strengthen and harmonise UK anti-discrimination law.
I thought I heard the Conservatives wanted to scrap the Equality Act?
Well, that’s an over-simplification. During the election campaign, they said they’d implement the Act except for the socio-economic duty. The Liberals, however, favoured implementing the Act in full.
Following weeks of speculation, it would seem the Liberal viewpoint has won out. Last week, BBC News reported that the coalition would move ahead with implementing the Act in full in October.
Home Secretary Theresa May says the Act demonstrates the coalition government’s commitment to equality:
“The law will be easier to understand and better able to protect people from discrimination.
“A successful economy needs the full participation of all its citizens and we are committed to implementing the Act in the best way for business.”
The Equality and Human Rights Commission welcomed the news. Commission chairman Trevor Philips said: “The Equality Act will make Britain a fairer country for all”.
The Confederation of British Industry is less happy, however. Its director of human resources policy Katja Hall said:
“Forcing companies to publish average salary figures for men and women could mislead people into thinking that women are paid less than men in the same role, which is rightly illegal, when differences will actually reflect the proportions of men and women in higher-paid jobs,” she said.
“The policy is also likely to backfire. Companies that have too few women in higher paid roles, and are trying to attract more, would be forced to publish a statistic that could deter female applicants and compound the problem.”
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