Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Tackling discrimination, modernising the law
The Government today published a consultation document including proposals for a Single Equality Bill, to simplify and improve existing legislation and make common-sense proposals to modernise discrimination law.
The Discrimination Law Review (DLR) will have two key aims:
* preventing discrimination happening in the first place by making equality law clearer;
* consulting on whether there are significant gaps in protection where we should legislate
Ministers believe the current laws covering discrimination need to be simplified. After all, they have grown up over the past 40 years, and different approaches have been taken at different times.
Discrimination law is currently contained in nine major pieces of legislation. This can act as a barrier to fairness. Having clearer law in a Single Equality Act will help prevent discrimination in the first place, because everyone will know where they stand. If people are discriminated against, they will know what their rights are. The Single Equality Act will put the law on equality and discrimination in one place, supported by clear practical guidance.
Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said:
"Equality law is not about some abstract concept. It is about how every one of us is treated at work, as a customer and consumer, and by our public services. Our consultation document aims to provide clearer and more effective protection from discrimination wherever people are faced with it in their everyday lives.
"This Government has a proud record of promoting equality of opportunity and tackling discrimination. This has included legislation to prevent harmful discrimination in the workplace, duties on the public sector, new rights and the biggest package of support for working families and carers as well as setting up the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
"For over 40 years, laws have been introduced in a piecemeal fashion and have as a result become overlapping and less clear. So it is right we have this review to ensure the laws which govern how people are treated in their everyday lives are as clear and effective as possible."
The Discrimination Law Review will consider the opportunities for creating a clearer and simpler discrimination law framework which produces better outcomes for people who experience disadvantage.
The Government will make clear this is a green paper and recognises there are strongly held views in what is a complex area. The review calls for a full and informed debate before bringing forward legislation. We want legislation that is proportionate and targeted specifically at harmful discrimination.
In a wide-ranging consultation document, just some of the issues and proposals the Government will seek views on are:-
Private clubs and associations - we do not favour preventing people setting up clubs which have membership targeted at one sex or group.
But we believe that people being treated as second class citizens when a club is open to all is not acceptable. For example, there are still golf clubs which restrict the times their female members can have access to club facilities or play during the day or bar them from being part of the running of the club.
Asking whether the equality duties for public bodies should be simplified and extended. We want to explore how the existing duties on public bodies to promote equality can be simplified and made more effective, and to consider whether they should be extended to new areas. This could ensure a much more strategic approach to tackling discrimination is put at the heart of public bodies' day to day business - rather than simply being an add-on box ticking exercise to be completed every three years.
Improving access to and use of premises for disabled people. Currently there is no duty for landlords and managers to make alterations to 'common parts' of rented or let properties - such as stairs, hallways and entrances. It is estimated that 57,000 disabled people could be facing difficulties because of inaccessible communal areas.
It is feared this can create a situation where someone could become a virtual prisoner in their own home, when a simple alteration could resolve this. In future a landlord would be required to make an alteration with the cost paid by the tenant.
For example, you would no longer be refused permission to put a permanent ramp at the front of your rented house or install a stair-lift up the communal stairs, even if you offer to pay for it.
Asking what the most effective way is of tackling age discrimination outside employment. Areas that are raised include health services and financial services. For example, ensuring all older people are given equal priority when planning and commissioning services.
In the provision of financial services, for example preventing an older person being refused a store credit card or loan just because they are over 65 even when they earn a good salary.
The Government will also make clear that legislation will not prevent benefits available to certain groups - examples might include holidays marketed for specific age groups and discounted bus fares for pensioners.
New protections for new mothers. The law would make clear that expectant and new mothers are protected from discrimination in relation to goods, facilities and services generally. For example, a mother with a baby under one-year-old could no longer not be made to leave a cafe when they are discreetly breast feeding their baby.
Improving the handling of discrimination cases - We want to enhance the expertise of courts hearing discrimination cases outside the workplace. We want to explore setting up specialist courts at county and (in Scotland) sheriff-level, with expertise in hearing discrimination cases, including judges with specific knowledge of this area of law to ensure there are centres of excellence across the country. This would ensure swifter, less costly and more effective justice.
Notes to Editors
1. The Discrimination Law Review can be accessed by visiting http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1511211. This document is available in Braille and audio versions, go to http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1511248
2. The paper includes consultation on plans for implementing Council Directive 2004/113/EC ('the Gender Directive'), which implements the principle of equal treatment between women and men in the access to and the supply of goods and services. The Directive requires us to amend some existing provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The deadline for implementation is 21 December 2007. Because a Single Equality Bill could not come into force until after this deadline, we intend to implement the Directive using powers under the European Communities Act. The consultation closes on 4 September 2007. HM Treasury will also be publishing draft Guidance on the insurance provisions of the SDA being amended through the Directive.
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