The Equality Act 2010 brings together all the legal requirements on equality that the private, public and voluntary sectors need to follow. Importantly, it affects equality law at work, in delivering all sorts of services and running clubs and societies.
The law protects people:
- who are employed or using a service – the act means that everyone has the right to be treated fairly.
- from discrimination on the basis of certain protected characteristics.
The Equality Act 2010 uses the term 'Protected Characteristics' to describe who is protected by law. Protection varies depending on whether a person is at work or using a service.
There are eight protected characteristics of people who use services. These are:
- sex (gender)
- gender reassignment
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
- age (over 18s only, and the law will not come into force until 2012)
For employees, there is an additional protected characteristic of marriage or civil partnership. In addition, employees are protected on the basis of age (not only over 18s).
The Equality Act 2010 does not just protect people who have these characteristics. It also protects people from being discriminated against because:
someone wrongly perceives them to have one of the protected characteristics.
they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic. For example, this includes the parent of a disabled child or adult or someone else who is caring for a disabled person.
The Act also means it is against the law to treat someone unfavourably because they are supporting someone to take action under the law.
Poverty and disadvantage
The Equality Act 2010 allows for the introduction of a new strategic duty on certain public authorities to address inequality which results from socio-economic disadvantage.
It is up to the Scottish Government to decide whether and how this strategic duty will be applied. The Scottish Government consulted on this issue late in 2009, but the policy and law on this issue has not been finalised, and there is no guidance. This is likely to be developed further in 2011.
A person who experiences socio-economic disadvantage will not necessarily be protected from discrimination in the same way as people who experience disadvantage because of other characteristics, such as race or gender. However, the proposed changes to the law will mean that public authorities must consider socio-economic disadvantage when planning services and making decisions.