Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act coming into law. When it came into force on 1st October 2010 it brought together 116 separate pieces of legislation, offering a single, clear legal framework to tackle discrimination against people with protected characteristics. These characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. The legislation was ground-breaking but it remains an under-used resource and tool for improving the quality and fairness of decision making across many aspects of our society.
There's little doubt that we can see how broader attitudes in society have shifted over the last 10 years. The 2010 legislation and the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (which was created under the precursor legislation; the Equality Act 2006) has challenged discrimination, promoted equality and protected people’s rights to fairness, dignity and respect.
When we think of some of the achievements of the last 10 years, we can be proud. We've seen hospitals ending the use of ‘do not resuscitate’ orders without consulting patients and families, we've seen protections for the rights of disabled people to live independently, the right for 2 adults to marry is no longer restricted to different-sex couples, and the list goes on.
Landmark cases continue to arise e.g. in relation to ethical veganism, same-sex couples being refused accommodation in a B&B, and a belief in Scottish Independence amounting to a protected philosophical belief, to name but a few.
This goes to show that there's still so much more to do, and that the Act is still finding its feet. Whether that's in relation to race inequality still being entrenched in society, disabled people still being treated as second-class citizens, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism still being worryingly prevalent and members of LGBTQ+ communities still frequently being victims of hate crime. We should also be under no misapprehensions about gender equality. And of course being intersex or identifying as gender-fluid or non-binary have not yet been recognised as protected characteristics. There's still plenty of work to do on those fronts too.
There remain provisions of the Equality Act 2010 that have yet to be brought into force, particularly in relation to socio-economic inequality. Millions of people on these isles are living in poverty, and Covid-19 has shone the most powerful spotlight imaginable on the inequalities that young people and people of minoritised ethnicity face every day. And who of us really knows what challenges we'll yet face as a result of Brexit.
The 2010 legislation should be a last resort for the protection of those from vulnerable communities. The UK Government has committed to ‘build back better’ over the next 10 years and that must include a focus on protecting all individuals from unfair and discriminatory treatment, as well as ensuring we're all able to thrive in an improved and more equal society.
Diversity Scotland is a leading consultancy firm supporting organisations and businesses to hire, engage and develop diverse talent.
Our business works with leaders, HR teams and internal recruitment functions to provide access to the latest thinking and industry leading expertise in order to foster inclusion and create a sense of belonging in the workplace.
We also work in partnership with like-minded activists across the world to collaborate on Anti-Racism and LGBTQ+ rights.