2.1 Legislation (Equality Act 2010 and implementation)
As an anti-discrimination measure, the Equality Act 2010 provides a strong framework for addressing discrimination and promoting equality, at least on paper. It harmonises the concept of discrimination, harassment and victimisation and protects the characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. It requires public bodies to combat discrimination and advance equality. It permits positive action. It forbids treatment with a discriminatory effect even if it is done without hostile intent, thereby echoing the Convention’s definition of discrimination.
Unfortunately, the Equality Act has been considerably watered down with some provisions not brought into force and others repealed by the Government in place between 2010 and 2015. This has made the legislation weaker and more difficult to enforce.
For instance, for the first time Parliament approved, as part of the Equality Act 2010, the prohibition of discrimination because of the combination of two protected characteristics, such as race and sex for instance (particularly relevant to the experiences of Black women) or religion and sex (particularly relevant to the experiences of Muslim women relating to harassment and indirect discrimination, including imposition of dress codes). However, this proposal was never brought into force with the Government declaring it was too costly to implement and unnecessary.
Another example of a provision approved by Parliament which the Coalition Government refused to bring into force is section 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which would have imposed a socio-economic duty on all major public authorities. Under this duty a public authority would be required to assess whether they were addressing socio-economic inequalities in making strategic decisions. Because of the relationship between socio-economic status and race in the UK, this could have been an effective measure in responding to racial inequalities.