Anti-discrimination campaigners have repeated warnings that a
single equalities body could fail unless all aspects of its work
are underpinned by the same legislation.
The heightened concerns followed the publication last week of a
white paper on establishing the Commission for Equality and Human
The body, which will combine the work of the Disability Rights
Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission and Commission for
Racial Equality, will be responsible for challenging discrimination
throughout society and promoting human rights. It will also police
new laws banning workplace discrimination on religion or belief,
sexual orientation and age grounds.
Although the establishment of the new body has been welcomed
widely, campaigners are continuing to call for its functions and
powers to be enshrined in primary legislation to standardise the
“patchwork” of current anti-discrimination laws.
Under current legislation, for example, the commission would have a
duty to promote equal rights on race and disability grounds in the
public sector, but no such duty for gender.
Disability Rights Commission chair Bert Massie said a single law
was important. “Without it, it would be easier for the new
commission to fail than to succeed,” he warned.
“From day one of the commission’s life, there would be serious
fault lines in its legal powers across the strands which could sow
the seeds for future disharmony.”
Laura Willoughby, chair of the Local Government Association’s
equalities executive, said: “With one single act, each issue would
be given the recognition it deserves and would provide a stronger
framework within which a single equalities commission could
The government believes the new organisation will tie together
expertise, tackle discrimination and build relations between
It is proposed the new commission will be able to take legal action
on discrimination grounds, but not under the Human Rights Act 1998.
Its remit will apply mainly to public bodies, while the government
has pledged a “light touch” for the private sector.