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I think it is useful to look again at its details and progress, and at how it applies in care services. The Act has three basic aims:
- To eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation
- To advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it
- To foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it
The 'protected characteristics' are defined as:
- gender reassignment
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
Specific duties under the Act are applicable to public authorities and to persons exercising public functions. The duties, in regards to people in the above groups, are to:
- remove or minimise associated disadvantages
- take steps to meet the associated needs of persons
- encourage persons to participate in public life
- tackle prejudice
- promote understanding
A refreshing, non-stigmatising approach
I think that the Act is a masterpiece of brevity, and reduces a confusing range of previous legislation to simple statements of general duties. It also makes duties under the Act clear, and is proactive in encouraging social change, for example in tackling prejudice, promoting understanding, and encouraging social inclusion and participation for people with the characteristics mentioned. This is a refreshing, non-stigmatising approach to the issues in diversity and equality.
Since non-private personal care and support services carry out a public function, the duties apply to them also. This means that we should not just be meeting the particular needs of people with protected characteristics in our services; we also need to be working pro-actively on their social inclusion; on reducing any associated disadvantage, such as lack of employment or education; and tackling prejudice and promoting understanding. These apply within services, as well as in how the service promotes these values in wider society.
A need to look at community involvement?
In my experience, the better services have these built into their aims and objectives already, and are making good headway on inclusion and participation. Perhaps there is a need for the more traditional type of care homes, for example, to look at their community involvement, and to measure up how their work can be extended and improved through carrying out the above duties which may apply to them.
Associated regulations have required public authorities to devise and publish outcomes, and progress towards these, in long-term, measurable improvement. Accessible information on this should be available to the public, so that we can all assist by following, and commenting on, progress in equality as this happens.