The public sector equality duty is the title of the duty, and how it is referred to in the Equality Act. It consists of the general equality duty which is the overarching requirement or substance of the duty, and the specific duties which are intended to help performance of the general equality duty.
The purpose of the duty is to encourage certain public bodies, including local authorities, health, transport and education bodies, the police, the armed forces and the central government departments, to pro-actively consider different customer and workforce needs when they carry out their day-to-day functions, deliver services and shape policy.
The general equality duty covers the following protected characteristics: age (including children and young people), disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
The three aims of the duty apply to all protected characteristics apart from marriage and civil partnership, which is only relevant to the first aim (eliminating discrimination). Thus a body subject to the duty must have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination where it is prohibited under the Equality Act 2010 because of marriage or civil partnership in the context of employment.
The Public Sector Equality Duty has three aims:
- Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act.
- Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
- Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
The Equality Act explains that the second aim (advancing equality of opportunity) involves, in particular, having due regard to the need to:
- Remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics.
- Take steps to meet the needs of people with certain protected characteristics where these are different from the needs of other people.
- Encourage people with certain protected characteristics to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low.
The Home Office say that the duty “supports good decision making – it encourages public bodies to understand how different people will be affected by their activities, so that their policies and services are appropriate and accessible to all and meet different people’s needs.”
For more information, visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) website.
The EHRC has provided advice on the application of the equality duty to making fair financial decisions. This is particularly relevant now when public sector organisations have to make savings.