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In the UK equality means to be able to have the same value and equal rights as everyone else. It is about creating a fairer society where everyone can be involved and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

The Equality Act 2010 came into effect 1st October 2010. Whatever your role is within an organisation, you need to know about equality, it does not matter if you only work for a small company, equality law still applies. It applies to every organisation and whatever the type of systems and processes that are used.

All employers have legal obligations in relation to equality. Employers should be forward thinking businesses, that recognise the benefits to every one of showing respect and dealing with issues openly and fairly at work.

We may think of the application of the Act in relation to employment but it’s important to remember that goes much further than this and applies to many different situations such as being treated in a hospital, purchasing goods and services, using public transport and so on. For this section of the course, we will focus on life at work when considering how the Act applies.

The Act is designed to protect individuals from unfair treatment and to promote a fair and more equal society in England, Scotland and Wales.

The purpose of the Equality Act 2010 can be summarised as the bringing together of several different pieces of UK anti-discrimination legislation and the updating and extension of these where required.   The Act defines certain actions that are not permissible and that are considered unlawful.

It also identifies so-called ‘protected characteristics’ which are best described as certain attributes that regular people possess which the law considers should be safeguarded.

When we say ‘safe-guarded’ we mean against the types of discrimination.
The Equality Act of 2010 replaces nine major pieces of legislation and lots of smaller pieces of legislation and draws together under one roof all the important UK anti-discrimination laws.

In addition to this, the Act introduces some new anti-discrimination features and is, therefore, a combination of rights and responsibilities that have:-

  • Stayed the same
  • Changed
  • Been extended
  • Or been introduced for the first time. 

In the UK, there has been a great deal of equality legislation in the past thirty to forty years. Racial discrimination and sex discrimination laws were introduced in the 1970’s to ensure that people of different races and men and women were treated equally and got the same pay for the same job.

Later, in the 1990s anti-discrimination laws for disabled people came into being and then in 2004, legal rights were given to lesbian, gay and bisexual to enable them to become partners, like married people.  With all of these pieces of legislation, it would be reasonable to conclude that equality was being successfully addressed within the UK. However, this was not universally felt to be the case; there existed some scepticism as to the effectiveness of UK equality laws.

What’s more, developments in European law, as well as case law meant that the equality laws were constantly being challenged.

All of this prompted a review of UK equality legislation, beginning in 2005 with the Discrimination Law Review and culminating with the announcement in June 2008 by Harriet Harman, the then Leader of the House of Commons, of a new Single Equality Bill. Ultimately, the Government published the Equality Bill on 27 April 2009.