Tuesday, 5 June 2007

The New Gender Equality Duty - April 2007

A European Directive, 2004/113/EC, becomes law in April 2007 affecting England, Wales and Scotland. Called the Gender Equality Duty, all Public Sector Organisations in Great Britain must treat men and women equally, with this impacting on their policy making, the way their services are provided, and how they treat their staff and service users.

Under the general duty, public sector organisations have a duty to eliminate discrimination and harassment and to promote equality. Certain organisations also have specific duties, but these help provide a structure to ensure that the organisations meet their general duty.

How could this impact on separating or separated parents and their children?

Currently, when a Council considers housing distribution, a non-resident father may be allocated a one bedroom house, without consideration being given to the fact he looks after his two children every weekend.

Where parents have parental responsibility (possibly only being the biological parent), it is now arguable that the Local Education Authority should include both parents' contact details on the childrens files and provide both parents with the same information e.g. treat them equally.

The decision on which parent receives the child benefit books could be challenged on the grounds of sexual discrimination.

Who is responsible for ensuring that Public Sector Bodies adhere to their equality duties?

The Equal Opportunities Commission (until October 2007), and from then you should contact the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

Who does the Gender Equality Rule apply to?

All public sector authorities in Great Britain are required to adhere to the General Duty on equality. The most obvious are schools, universities, local authorities, general practitioners, hospitals, the police and the armed forces. Private sector bodies may also be required to adhere to the Duty if:

they are publicly funded;
they are exercising powers of public nature directly assigned to them by statute;
they are taking the place of a central or local government;
they are providing a public sector service;
their structures/work are closely linked with the delegating/contracting-out state body;
there is a close relationship between the private body and the public authority.

Additional factors which may be relevant in determining whether or not a body is carrying out a function of a public nature include:

the extent to which the private body is supervised by a state regulatory body;
the fact of supervision by a state regulatory body.
The House of Lords, Members of Parliament, and the Judiciary have an exemption from adhering to the duty not to discriminate.