The Discrimination Law Review — set up over two years ago to look how anti-discrimination law could be made more effective — has just published its overdue Green Paper, which has been met with dismay by equality campaigners.
At the moment anti-discrim-ination law is inconsistent — it is legal to discriminate on certain grounds and certain parts of life: discrimination in immigration control can take place without any legal protection; older people can be legally discriminated against by service providers.
The current law is incoherent, with different rights, standards and levels of protection for different groups of people: the public sector is under new duties to positively promote equality on grounds of race, gender and disability — but not on sexual orientation. Meanwhile the private sector — where most people work and increasingly get services from — has no such obligations!
But the Green Paper's proposals would weaken key levers for equality in the public sector while doing nothing to tackle discrimination in the private sector.
It is hard to access justice and the law is poorly enforced — with thousands of cases never making it to justice due to lack of representation and funding. Even where law exists, employers and service providers can get away with repeated acts of discrimination because the powers of tribunals and courts are mainly focussed on compensation (generally low), not intervening to stop discrimination.
The realities of inequality show why we should all be pressing for the government to act.
Research carried out by the University of Cardiff (for Stonewall) in 2004 found one in five workers still felt unable to reveal their sexuality, despite the introduction of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, reflecting the need for requirements on private and public sector organisations to be subject to positive equality duties in relation to sexual orientation. The 2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey showed that a significantly larger proportion of Muslim residents lived in a socially deprived area than any other faith, reflecting the need for law to protect against the direct and indirect discrimination that shapes this.
We need to use this opportunity to ensure the law fully protects against homophobia and racism in all parts of society and that when discrimination does happen it is much easier to stand up for your rights.
The consultation period on the Green Paper is until 4 September. Anyone can submit a view. LAGCAR and NAAR will be responding — contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 247 9907 for more details.