The Coalition Government is currently carrying out an enquiry into the operation of the Public Service Equality Duty [PSED] under the last Labour Government’s 2010 Equalities Act. The Act had the goals of eliminating all forms of discrimination, harassment and victimisation of various named groups and also being pro-active in advancing equality amd promoting good relations in the public services. It seeks to protect and advance the well-being of people in the following groups based on their:
Pregnancy and maternity
Religion or belief, and;
So in fact, it protected the interests of a large segment of the population. In brief, the PSED requires public bodies,such as the NHS, to ‘pay due regard’ to equalities in everything they do. Thus a disabled person and a gay man, for example, could equally expect that the NHS would try to meet their needs.
The recent Stonewall Survey on the NHS and Gay Mens’ Health showed how lamentably the NHS was failing to meet their needs, but under these provisions the NHS would have to make a better effort to do so. As such, of course there is nothing wrong with reviewing the effectiveness of the legislation and seeing what improvements need to be made. After all, however welcome a declaration that we are all equal, especially in view of past discrimination, this does NOT mean that we magically BECOME equal.
What gives real concern here is the MOTIVATION of the Coalition Government in undertaking this review. It has been undertaken, almost unbelievably, as part of Theresa Mays ‘combatting red tape’ initiative, not one of promoting equality. The very real danger is that the government will be looking for excuses to scrap the duty on the grounds that equality is too expensive – ignoring the fact that the ultimate cost of inequality can be far higher. There is also ideological opposition to it in that it means governments being too proactive and indeed interfering in the sacred ‘free’ market’.
The TUC in its evidence to the review points to the positive difference that the duty has ALREADY made in promoting greater equality, but showed how things still need to be improved. Here are some of their points:
(1) It has enabled the gathering of equality information and greater accountability as a basis for future action.
(2) There has better engagement with protected groups such as ours although the recent Stonewall Survey has shown how far we still have to go
(3) It has improved employment outcomes for protected groups such as women,the disabled and LGBT people. Despite this there is mounting evidence that protected groups are suffering disproportionally under the coalitions austerity programme.
(4) Started to improve service delivery outcomes so that they more nearly meet peoples actual needs. This has particularly been the case for disabled groups although many of these have been negated by the governments overall economic policy. Scrapping the PSED would mean simply that the most vulnerable would be thrown to the wolves first.
The Fawcett Society, which has for so long championed women’s rights, have expressed their fears about what they think the Coalition is up to. They have accused the government of ‘a systematic assault on measures designed to protect women and minorities’ and expressed their fear that the government could well scrap the PSED completely. They have accused the government of ‘weakening the legal and institutional measures concerned with equality.’ Ceri Goddard, the society’s chief executive, said ‘over the past 40 years we have seen progress in equality laws, albeit quite slow. At the end of two years of the coalition government we have seen a reversal and dismantling of these laws.’ She went on to say that any attempt by the government to abandon the PSED ‘would be a systematic dismantling of the states role in tackling inequality.’
That indeed is the true nature of the threat we face. By its very nature a free market economy increases inequalities That is why state action is needed. The purpose of any review should be to enable the Act to meet its laudable objectives. Sadly the coalition has, backing up the points made by the Fawcett Society, already nibbled away at the effective operation of the Act by such means as:
(1) The watering down of specific duties
(2) Refusal to use legal enforcement
(3) A rollback on NATIONAL delivery standards
(4) A lack of political leadership in favour of it
(5) Cuts in staffing and funding for equality.
And of course, all of this has taken place against the background of austerity and in particular cuts in public services.
If there are weaknesses in the Act, they should be set right and NOT be used as an excuse to scrap a measure that the Tories never supported in the first place. The PSED has brought us limited gains but to scrap it would be a disaster. We must do what we can to stop this happening and work together with other threatened groups.
WHAT WE CAN DO TO DEFEND THE PSED
(1) Get yor MP to sign EDM 220 tabled by Sandra Osborne MP [who also tabled EDM 219 against Conversion Therapy which still needs more signatures] it reads:
‘That this House notes the review of the Public Sector Equality Duty now in progress; believes the Duty,albeit only recently introduced, has considerable potential to achieving the goals of eliminating all forms of discrimination, harassment or victimisation, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations; recognises the value placed on the Duty by public bodies, non-governmental organisations and others; and calls on Ministers to reaffirm their commitment to the Duty and to support public bodies in implementing it effectively.’
(2) If you are a member of the Labour Party get your CLP to pass resolutions in defence of the PSED, possibly including a resolution to Annual Conference. This is an example, recently passed unanimously by Hull North CLP:
‘This CLP reaffirms its support for the Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equalities Act 2010. It believes that the only purpse of the ccurrent government enquiry into the operation of the Act should be to improve its implementation and not to find excuses for watering down any of the duties of the Act. We consequently call upon the Labour Party to support the recommendations made by the TUC to improve implementation made in its submission of evidence to the Enquiry. We further believe that it is dangerous to assume that because we have a welcome Equalities Act enacted by the last Labour Government that we thereby HAVE equality or that such gains as have been made are safe from the attentions of the coalition government.’
It is also vitally important to ensure that local councillors are kept up to the mark in implementing the act There is widespread evidnce of the operation of a ‘Post Code Lottery’ whereby there are wide variations in how effectively the Act is being implemented.
(3) Do all you can in any organisations that you belong to to defend the PSED
WE ARE IN VERY REAL DANGER OF LOSING THE GAINS THAT WE HAVE ALREADY MADE AND OF SACRIFICING POSSIBLE FUTURE ONES. Please take action to persuade the government of the folly of such action. After all, all these minorities added together make a majority, and there will be an election in less than two years.
By Colin Livett
THE PSED MUST BREAK THE VICIOUS CIRCLE.
A recent report on how well public services in Manchester meet the needs of LGBT people in the city underlines that there is a low level of expectation from many LGBT people of the standard of service they will get.There is a widespread belief that they will receive discrimination because of their sexuality. Therefor many of them—not feeling able to stand up to this either do not access needed services at all or not disclosing their sexual orientation. This in turn means that the services concerned continue to be unaware of their real needs and as a result do not address them. As a result of that of course LGBT people will not only not get the services they need, but will be discouraged from accessing them again and most likely discourage others as well. That the services do not meet the needs of LGBT people will thus become a self fulfilling prophecy—-be it as a result of prejudice or of the public services not knowing. Or of course both.
The public service duty of the Equalities Act ought to be able to help here. One of its main duties is to gather data and assess and act on the actual needs of the various groups within its remit. Thus although there may have been limited advances on reporting and dealing with hate crimes, there are huge gaps in knowledge in other areas, such as homelessness ,domestic violence and sexual exploitation. AS a result of this LGBT peoples needs are not known and therefor adequately addressed
So we have a vicious circle. Because LGBT people have low expectations of services they either do not access them or hide their sexual orientation because they fear they will be discriminated against. Therefore—-even when not deliberately they are—-because the services concerned do not know what their needs are.
Services tailored to meet the particular needs of a group was at the heart of the Equalities Act
We must ensure that Labour strengthens the act . The potential good —not just for LGBT—but women ,disabled , BAME groups is immense.And our Party must help bring about its realisation. On a local level Labour should make sure that it has a voice in all of these groups and that they have a voice in the Labour Party.It ought not to be too difficult—–after all it is the most vulnerable that have suffered under the coalition government
Please help ensure that Labour commits —indeed strengthens it commitment to the PSED
Colin Livett 24th April 2014