Close the Gap concerned about dilution of equalities law

Close the Gap is concerned about the UK Government’s announcement of measures that may dilute existing equalities legislation. ‘Red Tape Challenge’ was a UK Government web-based consultation on current legislation, carried out with the specific aim of reducing so-called bureaucracy, and which attracted comments from the general public as well as from employers, and equalities organisations.  Following this exercise, the Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May, announced yesterday that the government will review the ‘effectiveness’ of the public sector equality duty, and is minded to remove some existing legal protections for employers, and to reduce the role of employment tribunals.

The review, which will take a form that is yet to be announced, will cover the general public sector equality duty and the specific duty. This will have implications for Scotland, as the general duty covers Scotland and Wales as well as England. This review follows hot on the heels of the introduction of the general duty; the specific duties have not yet been implemented in Scotland.

May also announced a proposal to scrap equal pay questionnaires which provide individuals with information that can be used to take forward equal pay grievances and tribunal cases. She also announced the Government’s intention to remove the ability of tribunals to make recommendations to employers about changes to their employment practices. This would remove one of the only measures that tribunals have to address discrimination that is embedded, usually unwittingly, within the pay systems of employers.

There are enormous concerns about the impact of public sector spending cuts on the position of women in the labour market.  The number of unemployed women is at a 25 year high with this number predicted as budgets reduce in the female-dominated public sector. There has also been a rise in pregnancy discrimination, cuts to flexible working, and an increase in the number women under-employed. Analysis by the House of Commons library researchers revealed that women will pay for more than 70 per cent of the £18bn cuts to social security and welfare set out in the 2010 emergency budget. The Women’s Budget Group has analysed cuts to services, and has determined that the withdrawal in public services amounts to 20 per cent of the income of single parents.

The public sector equality duty requires public sector employers to work proactively on the complex causes of the pay gap. Other legal remedies provide redress when things go wrong. Close the Gap will be responding to the consultation to remind the UK Government of the benefits of the Equality Act: public bodies working to provide the best quality of employment to employees, and clear expectations for employers and employees on how problems will be resolved if they arise.  

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