The Equality Act 2010 replaced the race, disability and gender equality duties with the public sector equality duty (PSED) on 5th April 2011.The new equality duty covers the nine protected characteristics set out in the Act:
- gender reassignment
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion and belief
- sexual orientation
The project explored how public authorities in England performed with regard to the specific duty (to publish equality information) in the first year of implementation. The deadline for meeting this specific duty was 31 January 2012 for all the listed public authorities.
The assessments were conducted between February and April 2012. The websites of public authorities were reviewed, to assess to what extent they had published relevant and accessible information.
The evidence that was collected was to serve as a starting point to measure progress on the specific duty, and to serve as a useful baseline for public authorities across a range of sectors.
Duty bearers targeted, and their specific obligations (if any)
The duty bearers we targeted were all the public authorities in England. The EHRC conducted 1113 assessments covering the following sectors:
- All police forces (39)
- All probation trusts (34)
- All universities (130)
- Colleges (A sample of 115 out of 345)
- All local authorities (353)
- All health & social care providers (258)
- All NHS commissioners (144)
- All listed national organisations (40)
- Government departments
The general equality duty requires public authorities in all their functions to have due regard to the need to
- eliminate discrimination and harassment
- advance equality of opportunity and
- foster good relations
The specific obligations these bodies have in England are too:
- Publish information to demonstrate compliance with the general. This must include, in particular, information relating to people who share a protected characteristic who are its employees and people affected by its policies and practices. Public authorities with fewer than 150 employees are exempt from the requirement to publish information on their employees.
- Prepare and publish one or more objectives that it thinks it needs to achieve to further any of the aims of the general duty
Main objective of the project
The aims of the monitoring project were to:
- Identify whether equality information could be found at all and if so, how accessible the information appeared to be;
- Determine how comprehensive the equality information was;
- Establish whether there were differences in performance and/or approach amongst public authorities and sectors;
- Identify and disseminate examples where authorities have adopted effective approaches which could be reproduced by others.
The tools chosen were "advice and guidance" and "engagement and provision of practical support". The EHRC initially published guidance to help public authorities decide what equality information they needed to publish to demonstrate compliance with the general equality duty.
The Commission undertook an assessment of the information published by public authorities (not including schools) between February and April 2012.
EHRC published a report, "Publishing equality information: Commitment, engagement and transparency", which sets out the findings of the assessment.
The report not only looks at performance on the specific duty, but it also sets out what good practice looks like. The report concludes with a number of recommendations for public authorities on how to improve their performance.
The EHRC recommends that public authorities publish their equality data in line with the following best practice criteria:
- all equality data should be up to date
- all equality data should be available on line
- equality information should be easy to find, ideally in one place
- equality information should cover workforce and potential and actual service users
- equality information should be clearly explained with facts and figures supported by a clear narrative
- equality information should cover all protected characteristics, acknowledge information gaps and identify how these will be addressed.
- equality information should include evidence of how the impact on equality is assessed
- equality information should be accessible to everyone, being available in alternative formats and ideally in different languages.
The EHRC’s recommendations for all public authorities are:
- review the findings in this report and take steps to publish their equality data in line with the above best practice criteria
- identify areas where they have not collected, used or published equality information, but where other authorities in their own sector are doing so
- consider how their own performance compares with the performance of other authorities in the sector
- review the practice examples in this report and any on the Commission’s website
- consider where it would be appropriate to improve their equality data collection and over what time scale
- engage with staff and service users about how useful they have found their published equality information to be and where any improvements can be made
- put in place clear plans for any shortcomings
- remember that meeting the specific duty is not an end in itself but a mechanism for improving performance on the general equality duty.
The findings in the report should enable public authorities to learn from each other, be able to share good practice and to improve the quality, extent and clarity of the equality information that they produce and publish, in order to improve their equality outcomes.
A key challenge was trying to find and access the equality information easily on the public authorities website which was a lot more time consuming than envisaged.