A report by NatCen Social Research reveals that the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is thought to be simpler than previous duties. Therefore, the government’s decision to hold off scrapping the duty is a wise one, writes Kelsey Beninger.
The topic of equalities has a tumultuous yet inspiring history in the UK with decades of lobbying for the inclusion and equal treatment of minority groups, such as disabled people and black and minority ethnic groups.
Most recently the debate has revolved around the effectiveness of the Equality Act 2010. In April 2011, the Act harmonized and simplified previous anti-discrimination laws as well as added some new protected characteristics to the pot, such as gender reassignment. The public sector equality duty (PSED) is part of the Equality Act and applies to public sector bodies and organisations contracted to do work on their behalf. In a nutshell, the PSED is a legal responsibility to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between people. It is made up of general and specific duties. Organisations must show that they have paid ‘due regard’ to the duty when introducing new policies or practices.
In light of these changes, and of the Red Tape Challenge to cut bureaucratic and costly processes, the government is keen to understand the impact of the PSED amongst public sector organisations. It is still early days to carry out a full assessment of the value and impact of the PSED, but the Government Equalities Office has carried out a review of the implementation of the PSED. As part of their larger review, we at NatCen Social Research contributed an independent research study.
Our research revealed that generally the PSED was thought to be simpler and easier to respond to than the previous duties. The greater flexibility offered by the PSED to public sector organisations in England resulted in bodies using a range of different approaches. The organisations we spoke to fell into three categories: those who went above and beyond to show ‘due regard’, those who under-complied and those who took a proportionate approach to compliance. My colleague describes this further elsewhere.
We found that an established and recognised equalities ‘infrastructure’ helped the equalities agenda in organisations. To learn more about what helped make successful implementation and what made it more difficult read our report.
The government has now reached a decision on the duty, for the time being allaying fears that it is to be scrapped, with the more considered outcome: a full evaluation in 2016 when the Duty has been in force for five years. The decision not to scrap or significantly amend the equality duty is supported by our research and so the government’s decision to hold off is a certainly a wise move.
We have also been commissioned by the EHRC to carry out similar research in Wales. It’ll be interesting to see how the situation compares or varies so check out the NatCen website in the spring for news on the result of that study.
Kelsey Beninger is a Researcher at NatCen Social Research, Britain’s largest independent social research agency. She designs and delivers a range of mixed method research projects and has a particular interest in equalities topics.