Tabloid hysteria over Equalities Bill wide of the mark

The Equalities Bill, will, for the first time, outlaw discrimination on the grounds of socio-economic background.

The new legal duty for public bodies to reduce socio-economic inequality has been dubbed variously as “socialism in one clause” and discrimination against the middle classes.

But is it really as radical as the Daily Mail and Express would have us believe?

For the first time, the duty puts discrimination on the basis of socio-economic background on the same footing as discrimination due to gender, race, age and sexuality. This is an important symbolic move: few would argue that people from poorer backgrounds should have access to fewer or poorer services because of where they live.

The more important question, though, is the extent to which it will work. A decade of progressive education and health policies have failed to make a truly significant dent into the extent to which socio-economic background impacts on people’s life outcomes. There is nothing to suggest that a legislative approach will succeed where these policies have not.

More significant than an intangible ‘duty’ – that relies on the courts for enforcement – would be changing the current accountability frameworks for schools, PCTs and hospitals, to focus more explicitly on closing the gap, policies that divert funding towards disadvantaged groups. For example, the pupil premium proposals for schools from the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.

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5 Responses to “Tabloid hysteria over Equalities Bill wide of the mark”

  1. Shamik Das

    RT @leftfootfwd: Tabloid hysteria over Equalities Bill is wide of the mark, writes @soniasodha –

  2. Thomas Byrne

    The positive-discrimination aspect is over-stated. The candidates still have to be equal. The positive discrimination is just rhetoric, not meaningful, and is the kind of thing that large employers in the private sector do already.

    Its purely symbolic. Employers aren’t going to use the provision because if they do the risk of a lawsuit is huge. The whole idea is to “look” like something positive is being done for women – its a stupid provision, which masks the very good work done by the rest of this Bill.

    One of the key issues isn’t reported that well because it is technical. Existing anti-discrimination legislation is very complicated, and each Act is a little bit different. It is very difficult for people to enforce their rights in front of the Employment Tribunal unless they can afford a lawyer – and the complexity of it makes it very expensive. There is no legal aid in the Employment Tribunal: if you are poor, then unless you can find someone to take your case on for free, you are pretty much screwed. The Equality Bill consolidates all the previous law and puts it in one place: it makes it much easier for people to know what the law is and to be able to enforce it.

  3. beatricelucy

    Sonia’s written about the Equalities Bill for @leftfootfwd

  4. Demos

    Sonia's written about the Equalities Bill for @leftfootfwd

  5. Theo Grzegorczyk

    It’s incorrect to state that the Equality Duty will rely on courts for enforcement. The Duty, bear in mind, will apply only to PUBLIC bodies, which are all regulated by government agencies (EG Ofsted for schools).

    If the duty applied beyond the public sector – private companies for example – then yes, it would require the courts for enforcement. But it doesn’t apply to the private sector. It is a “Public Duty”.

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