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Equality bill to bring voluntary 'positive discrimination' to UK
Amy Grant
Monday, 27 April, 2009 | 12:00
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Credit: William Kemsley

A ground-breaking Equality Bill which will attempt to reduce discrimination in society by unifying over 100 previous bills is being introduced to parliament this week.

Harriet Harman, minister for women and head of the government equality office, has launched the bill, amidst criticism from opposition parties and business leaders.

Ms Harman has said the bill intends to "address the serious inequalities that still exist".

If passed it could dramatically change the way people are treated, not only in the workplace, but in society as a whole.

Somewhat controversially, the bill will allow employers to positively discriminate when hiring in order to ensure a more even representation of society in their workforce.

Shadow leader of the commons, Theresa May said of the bill: "This bill should seek to unite not divide. It has good intentions but its lack of detail and clarity is disappointing.”

For example, a woman as equally qualified as a male counterpart will be favoured, although Harman has denied criticism that her bill may make women "more equal" than men. When introducing the bill the Labour deputy was met with cries of "outrageous" and "disgusting" by Tory backbenchers.

One of the key elements of the bill is increased transparency of existing discrimination. All public bodies, such as local councils and the police force, will be required to disclose not only what action they are taking to tackle gaps in pay between genders, but a breakdown of their workforce, which could result in some bodies being publicly named and shamed for inequality amongst their employees.

However, this is a diluted version of the original plan to demand the same revelations from the private sector. The government is, reportedly, deciding whether or not these demands will be made of all government agencies.

The bill will also attempt to eliminate age discrimination in society. Current laws only serve to protect against discrimination in the workplace, however the Equality Bill will put an end to people being refused services such as insurance, mortgages or NHS treatment on account of their age.

Moreover, the bill seeks to legally eradicate class discrimination for the first time. Education authorities would be required to encourage working class parents to send their children to less deprived schools. This would be the first law to tackle such issues.

However a spokesperson for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) assured The Journal that: “Discounts aimed at young people and students will not be affected. Exemptions like this will be built into the bill.”

Therefore, provisions such as the Young Persons Railcard will be protected.

EHRC warned this week that a detail in the bill, which could make it compulsory for businesses to carry out audits on equal pay, could lead to a surge of litigations.

 

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