The government’s Equality Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday despite the opposition of the Conservative frontbench.
The legislation includes measures to outlaw discrimination against older people in the provision of goods and services, oblige public bodies to tackle socio-economic inequalities and protect carers by outlawing discrimination against people associated with an older or disabled person.
Tories defeated on vote
A Tory motion rejecting the bill was defeated by 322 votes to 139 and the legislation will now be considered in more detail by a parliamentary committee.
Conservative shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May said the party supported moves to tackle inequality and discrimination but the bill’s “good intentions have been muddled by ill-thought-out and, frankly, unworkable proposals”.
She particularly cited the proposed duty on public bodies to tackle socio-economic inequalities, which she said would achieve nothing and involved ministers “ducking the issue” of narrowing the gap between rich and poor by pushing responsibility onto local authorities.
Bercow backs duty to narrow class divide
But her party colleague John Bercow defended the measure, saying it could help improve social mobility, for instance by promoting measures to get poorer children into good schools.
However, supporters of the bill also criticised the government on various counts, including for failing to include provisions to outlaw a mandatory retirement age, which currently allows employers to force people to retire at 65.
Action urged on disability definition
Labour MP Roger Berry, secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on disability, urged the government to amend the bill to extend protection against discrimination to more disabled people.
Currently, people have to show they have an impairment that has a long-term – lasting at least 12 months – substantial and adverse impact on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities, to gain protection under the Disability Discrimination Act.
Berry added: “That is too restrictive a definition and I hope that the government will at least consider reducing the time to six months.”
The Equality Bill