BROKEN promises are something politicians are accused of with amazing regularity but the coalition government has gone a step with its announcement in last week’s budget to drop two key elements of the new equalities laws.
The UK has lead on equalities and is regarded as providing a standard for Europe, such is the progress of legislation over the last 10 years.
The groundbreaking Equality Act 2010 consolidated more than 30 years of discrimination Acts and Regulations (such as the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) in one single Act.
This process recognises that as we increasingly come to terms with all our social diversity we need equalities legislation to underpin it.
News this week that dual discrimination legislation is to be dropped while third party harassment is to be removed from the act, flies in the face of the progress that has been made.
Inequality and disadvantage don’t come neatly packaged in parcels marked age or disability. They emerge often as a strand – not as a woman but as an ethnic minority woman; not as a gay man but a a gay disabled man; not as older person but an older Christian…the list goes on.
The Equalities Act was meant to make sure these permutations of inequality were accounted for, especially in the workplace.
It is a retrograde step for these elements to be abandoned and it is a major concern that the coalition government is viewing the Equalities Act as the fly in the ointment of economic recovery.
In fact it is the opposite. After the last recession, a generation of people living with ill-health or disability ended up living on benefits long term – without work, opportunity or hope. As the country grew richer, some elements of society got poorer. We can’t let the previous inequalities mould society in the way it did then.
That’s why our equality legislation matters more now than ever and any erosion of the empowerment it affords is deeply worrying.