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Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 brought together over a hundred pieces of anti-discrimination laws, including the Disability Discrimination Act. This guide covers the principles of this important legislation.

Image credit: Tom Johnson

The Equality Act 2010 pulls together many different strands of discrimination legislation including the Disability Discrimination Act. Most of the provisions of the act came into force on the 1st October 2010. This summary provides a brief outline of the new ways in which people in the UK are protected against unfair treatment. For detailed information we recommend following the links provided below.

The Equality Act provides a clearer route for those who feel discriminated against to take action. It also provides service providers with a clearer understanding of the ways discrimination can happen, and the ways in which it can be addressed.

The new Equality Act should bring greater focus to the importance of removing the barriers that prevent a whole range of people from participating fully in society. We hope we can look forward to more understanding and more uptake of the ideas of social inclusion across the range of goods and service providers.

Protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 identifies the personal characteristics that are protected by the law as ‘protected characteristics’ (previously called ‘grounds’). These are:

gender reassignment
marriage and civil partnership
pregnancy and maternity
race – including ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality
religion or belief
sexual orientation

What's new?

The Act is an amalgamation of existing legislation so there aren’t many major changes. However, there are some welcome improvements, for example:

It is easier to prove disability: for instance you no longer need to be registered disabled

Indirect discrimination is extended to apply to disability and gender reassignment for the first time.

The prohibition on direct discrimination on grounds of pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment will apply in schools for the first time.

The Act also introduces some new provisions such as the prohibition on discrimination arising from disability.

Forms of discrimination

It is important to understand the various forms of discrimination:

Direct discrimination: treating one person worse than another because of a protected characteristic

Indirect discrimination: a policy or action that puts someone with a protected characteristic at a disadvantage compared to someone without one, and which cannot be objectively justified.

Discrimination by association: for example if a carer is unable to visit a site because the person s/he cares for cannot access it.

Discrimination by perception: for example if someone is discriminated against because s/he is wrongly thought to be in one of the protected characteristics groups.

Recognising discrimination by association is close to our hearts and particularly relevant to the design of public open space. It means that service providers should be aware that if a family group finds it impossible to access a place because one member of the family is disabled, any member of that group may justifiably feel discriminated against. This could well increase the likelihood of legal action compared with the previous Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

Disability and the Equality Act

We welcome a better understanding and broader definition of disability. On the Equalities website the government states:

"Disability has a broad meaning. It is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. 'Substantial' means more than minor or trivial. 'Impairment' covers, for example, long-term medical conditions such as asthma and diabetes, and fluctuating or progressive conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or motor neurone disease. A mental impairment includes mental health conditions (such as bipolar disorder or depression), learning difficulties (such as dyslexia) and learning disabilities (such as autism and Down's syndrome). Some people, including those with cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS, are automatically protected as disabled people by the Act. People with severe disfigurement will be protected as disabled without needing to show that it has a substantial adverse effect on day-today activities."

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