The enforcement of equality laws should no longer have to rely on individuals coming forward to the courts which dates back to the 1960s and 70s but rather a new approach which shifts to “provide a sustainable deterrent and tackles institutional and systemic discrimination.”
This is the view of the Women and Equalities Committee, which was published in their report today (30th July) after their year long inquiry. The report is called Enforcing the Equality Act 2010: the law and the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
The committee found that the EHRC is not doing an effective job and that individuals are finding it hard to enforce their rights under the current Equality Act. They still believe individuals should have the right to challenge discrimination in the courts, but the system should mean that this only happens rarely.
The Women and Equalities Committee includes numerous MPs such as Tonia Antoniazzi, Labour MP for Gower, Vicky Ford, Conservative MP for Chelmsford and Anna Soubry, Change UK MP for Broxtowe.
The main recommendations outlined in the report are:
- Develop a ‘critical mass’ of cases to inform employers and organisations about their legal duties and make adherence to existing equality law a priority for all organisations
- Move away from relying so heavily on the current model of using individual litigation to create precedents
- Make obligations on employers, public authorities, and service providers explicit and enforceable
- Ensure that all who have powers to change the way in which employers, public bodies and service providers operate use their powers to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality
- The EHRC must refocus its work and be bolder in using its unique enforcement powers.
The committee is calling on the Government’s labour market enforcement director to play an essential role, as well as the new single labour market enforcement body to ensure these new proposed rules take place.
Maria Miller, Committee chair and Conservative MP for Basingstoke said:
Creating a fairer society where people are not treated differently because of the colour of their skin, their sex, gender, sexuality or religion is central to British values. In our first four years, in inquiry after inquiry the Women and Equalities Committee has heard abundant evidence of the destructive impact discrimination has on people’s lives, as well as the heavy cost that puts on society and public services. One thing is absolutely clear: the burden of enforcement must shift away from the individual. We need a fundamental shift in approach, and our report shows how to do it.
The EHRC must overcome its timidity. It has unique powers, limited resources and must use them for maximum impact. It should make regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen not only key partners in creating a critical mass of enforcement action but also key targets for enforcement action when those same regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen fail to meet their own equality duties.
Above all, the Government must act on its own obligations. It must embed compliance and enforcement of the Equality Act into its most significant strategies and action plans. That it has not yet done so in its recent efforts to improve the quality of work – where stopping discrimination is so clearly an essential precondition to any improvements – beggars belief. Our report sets out exactly what needs to be done, and we look forward to hearing how the Government plans to act on this.
Darius is the editor of HRreview. He has previously worked as a finance reporter for the Daily Express. He studied his journalism masters at Press Association Training and graduated from the University of York with a degree in History.