It is hard to deny that the UK has become a fairer society since the major equalities legislation was introduced for race and gender in the mid-1970s. Some of the cruder forms of overt discrimination that barred women from jobs and black people from housing are now more a matter for social historians than the equality enforcement agencies.
Things aren’t perfect even in these fundamental respects, but at least it is now generally realised that this kind of unequal treatment is unacceptable in a decent society.
The government’s discrimination law review intends to recognise the progress made, proposing to replace the nine current laws with a Single Equality Act.
But what is worrying is the proposal that public bodies should identify priority equality objectives while discarding the requirement to have “due regard” for equality in every aspect of their decision-making on policy and practice. Objectives are fine where measures are easy, such as access to health services for people with learning disabilities or the proportion of senior managers who are women, but what about the less tangible realms of inequality – homelessness among disabled people, say?
The danger is that everybody focuses on specific objectives and forgets the most important lesson of the last three or four decades, namely that equality should be part of the air we breathe and not something we merely think about when there is a target to be met.
Contact the author
This article appeared in the 21 June issue under the headline “Equality complacency”