Single Equality Act Green Paper Briefing


Please read this summary of our views and have your say in the consultation.

The Discrimination Law Review was launched in February 2005. The Green Paper is the first public consultation and conspicuously failed to measure up to its terms of reference. These are: 

  • A consideration of the fundamental principles of discrimination legislation and its underlying concepts and a comparative analysis of the different models for discrimination legislation.
  • An investigation of different approaches to enforcing discrimination law so that a spectrum of enforcement options can be considered.
  • An understanding of the evidence of the practical impact of legislation – both within the UK and abroad – in tackling inequality and promoting equality of opportunity.
  • An investigation of new models for encouraging and incentivising compliance.
  • Consideration of the opportunities for creating a simpler, fairer and more streamlined legislative framework in a Single Equality Act.

The Discrimination Law Review was to be grounded in a comprehensive analysis of the efficacy of Great Britain’s current equality enactments and the requirements of European equality legislation.

Our view of the Green Paper

Progress towards substantive equality for disabled people is far too slow and in some areas we are drifting backwards. For example, according to the Equality Review, at the current rate of progress employment equality will simply never be achieved for disabled people.  Meanwhile three out of every ten disabled adults of working age are living in poverty in Britain – a higher proportion than a decade ago and double the rate among non-disabled adults (JRF 2005).

The state of anti-discrimination legislation is partly to blame. It is complex, full of holes and does not provide us with the right set of tools to root out systemic inequalities.

An historic opportunity lies ahead with the promise of a Single Equality Act within the lifetime of this Parliament.  Clear, comprehensive and effective new equality legislation is vitally needed to inject new momentum into the battle for real equality for disabled people, older people, women and men, transgender people, lesbians and gay men and people of different religious beliefs.

The Green Paper should be setting out proposals for an equality law which is fit to address the challenges and embrace the opportunities of 21st Century. It fails to measure up.

Fails to meet its Brief

Whilst it addresses to some extent the issue of simplification of the law, overall we believe that the Green Paper has failed to meet its Brief. It fails to put forward any substantive improvements in securing compliance, or achieving better methods of enforcement. In particular, there are no plans to address the continuing failure of the private sector to tackle discrimination or embrace equality.


Missed opportunity

The proposals fail to address some of the gaps in protection and deep seated problems regarding the way in which disability and other equality laws work – particularly in relation to access to justice, and effective means of tackling persistent discrimination.

Undermines the Disability Equality Duty in three fundamental ways

  1. The principle underpinning all 3 equality duties at present is mainstreaming: they require equality issues to be taken on board in everything that public authorities do. 
    The Green Paper proposes narrowing this duty so that authorities are required to set equality objectives – and take proportionate action to achieve these. We oppose this because it breaks completely with the mainstreaming requirement which is the heart of the equality duties. This proposal would remove the requirement for equality impact assessments. Instead we think the gender duty is a good model for the future development of equality duties; it requires due regard to gender equality in all the actions of a public authority and also requires equality objectives to be set.
  2. At present most public authorities have to produce 3 year schemes with detailed requirements including monitoring and showing what steps they will take to promote equality – and they must involve disabled people in these schemes. The Green Paper proposes a far less specific requirement – that will be far harder to enforce and far harder for disabled people to use to hold authorities to account. It proposes instead ‘principles’ to ‘underpin effective performance of public sector duties’. The involvement of disabled people will be a ‘principle’ instead of a legal requirement.
  3. At present any interested party can challenge a public authority decision on the basis that it fails to give due regard to disability equality. It is proposed that this will no longer be the case with only the CEHR being able to take enforcement action.

Positive steps

There are some positive steps on disability – particularly the proposal to require landlords to allow tenants to make changes (such as installing chair lifts). We approve the proposed re-drafting of the disability discrimination provisions. However, these gains are small in relation both to the outstanding problems, and more particularly to the impact of weakening the disability equality duty.

We also welcome proposals that will benefits other groups:  to prohibit age discrimination in goods and services, to extend the duty to promote equality to all groups covered by the Single Equality Act and the loosening of restrictions on positive action (disability discrimination is distinctive in not imposing any restrictions on positive discrimination).


The deadline for responding to the Green Paper is 4 September 2007. The consultation paper is available on the Department for Communities and Local Government website via the following link: Framework for Fairness: Proposals for a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain.

It is important that the Discrimination Law Review hears from all those with an interest in the future of equality. Anyone can make a submission. You can respond to the questions asked but should also raise other issues – that may not be included in the Green Paper.

What the DRC would like to see in the Single Equality Act

  • Stronger enforcement mechanisms: equality tribunals, group and representative actions and effective sanctions.
  • Extended and strengthened duty to promote equality: applies to all strands, retains the requirement on most authorities to produce public equality schemes, explicitly applies to public procurement.
  •  A clear statement in the Act of its purpose: not merely eliminating discrimination but enhancing dignity and participation and achieving substantive equality through positive action where required. Such a clause would improve public understanding and guide courts, tribunals, and everyone else dealing with the legislation as to how it should be applied and interpreted.
  • Banning all disability discrimination: ships, planes, volunteers and armed services.
  • Stronger protection against education discrimination.
  • A simpler, better definition of disability.
  • Protection for those discriminated against because they are associated with or perceived to be a disabled person (this would benefit carers, people working with HIV positive people and many others) and a fairer approach to disability discrimination per se (protecting anyone discriminated against on grounds of impairment).
  • Protection against genetic discrimination.
  • Clear protection against multiple-discrimination.

Many of the weaknesses in the current proposals apply with equal force to other forms of discrimination. We have produced, and published on our website, shared briefing notes with the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunity Commission on:

Have your say!

The Discrimination Law Review consultation closes on 4 September.