Public Sector Equality Duty
A new public sector equality duty has been introduced as part of the Equality Act 2010. This measure puts a legal duty on public bodies to actively promote equality.
The duty, which came into force on 5 April 2011, will require bodies such as councils, schools and police forces to demonstrate that they are working to eliminate discrimination and harassment, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations between different groups.
It is the first time that a legal measure of this kind has been extended to equality on the grounds of ’sexual orientation’ and ‘gender reassignment’. The duty also requires public bodies to advance equality on the grounds of age, disability, gender, pregnancy, race, religion and belief.
"For equality to flourish it is important that public bodies understand the impact of their decisions on all groups in society and that they can be held to account for them,” said Andrea Murray of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. "The new duty broadens the issues that public bodies have to take into account when making decisions.”
A number of fundamentalist Christian groups oppose the measures. "From today, the Public Sector Equality Duty means public bodies will find themselves vulnerable to vexatious claims from activist groups that they are not doing enough to promote equality,” claimed Colin Hart, director of the Christian Institute.
The University of Wales could become one of the first bodies to face an inquiry under the new law. The university is accused of validating degrees awarded by fundamentalist Christian colleges, which run by organisations that believe gay relationships are sinful.
Professor Debbie Epstein of Cardiff University told the Western Mail that: "after the general duty to equality becomes a legal requirement next week, it would, in my view, be unlawful for a university to condone, through its degree validating procedures, colleges that do not uphold equality.”