What is Equality Impact Analysis and Why is it Important?
Equality Impact Analysis is a vital part of policy making
We often hear people say they want less regulation. But in practice, much of it helps create a better society. A clear example of this is the Equality Act. The Act gives us all protection from unfair discrimination in the workplace or in the provision of services from the state. The legislation provides a framework for a fairer society where we can all expect our ‘protected’ characteristics to be considered in service provision. It sets out clear requirements for policy makers that are now reinforced by case law. The Act prevents services being created to benefit the most vocal, the richest or the most powerful.
Equality impact analysis looks at the effect policy will have on the different groups protected by the Equality Act. This means that when officials are developing policy at a national or local level, they have to consider the impact on different protected groups. Policymakers may still pursue their policy, even if it has a detrimental effect on one group. But they have to have a strong justification and rationale for their decision.
What underpins the Equality Act?
The Equality and Human Rights Commission describes it as ‘a modern, single legal framework with clear law to better tackle disadvantage and discrimination.’
It sets out 3 duties for public authorities:
1) To eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation;
2) To advance equality of opportunity between those who share a protected characteristic and those who do not;
3) To foster good relations between those who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
The Government Equalities Office describes the purpose of these three duties as ‘supporting good decision making – it encourages public bodies to understand how different people will be affected by their activities so that policies and services are appropriate and accessible to all and meet different people’s needs’.
This means when providing a service for everyone it’s fundamental to take into account that people have different needs. The duty encourages officials to understand to develop policies with different service users in mind.
The three duties do not list all the services. But provide an overarching framework to guide the action of local and national government.
Looking across the pond
It’s useful, sometimes, to look for what is going on in other countries to understand our own frameworks. The 14th Amendment states that under the law no state can’ deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.’. Workplaces are covered by legal protection and practice positive discrimination (illegal in the UK). Legislation in the States seems to be far more specific regarding public services. In 2015, the Obama administration backed proposals for an Equality Act. If passed, the Act would prohibit discrimination in the following areas:
- public accommodations
- public education
- federal funding
- jury system
The proposed Equality Act sets out a specific list where discrimination would be illegal. Yet, one area not covered which has witnessed a surge in discriminatory laws is voting. New states laws has made voting more difficult for minorities. The Supreme Court has done less to challenge these discriminatory laws since it struck down a core element of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision was a landmark case which eliminated the Justice Department’s authority to block changes to voting laws in states with histories of discrimination.
As such, some states have made it harder for some groups to vote through stricter registration requirements. In North Dakota, Republicans passed an ID law that disproportionately affects Native Americans. In North Carolina, the legislature’s regulation of early-voting hours has closed polling places across the state. The number of people purged from voter rolls has risen sharply. According to the Brennan Centre Study, an estimated 99 bills have been introduced in 31 states to restrict voting access. This has impacted minority groups most who find it harder to both register and vote as it requires more travel and time.
Could a Council pass such a policy in the UK? The short answer is, yes. Although the Electoral Commission would have something to say on the matter. The official would have to consider its impact on groups it may disadvantage and would likely end up in a judicial review. And most likely, someone would use the Public Sector Equality Duty to challenge the policy.
Challenging decisions made by councils
In the UK, we are seeing more people prepared to challenge decisions made by Councils. For instance, in Bristol, a group of parents of children with special needs won a judicial review against the Council after challenging its decision to reduce Special Needs and Disabilities funding by £5m. They won the case partly because whilst the Council intended to do an equality analysis on the cuts, they were proposing to do it after the budget had been set. You can read more about this case here.
If you are working in the public sector, the Brown Principles (2008) set out that: ‘decision makers must be made aware of their duty to have due regard to the identified need.’. This means that, policymakers must understand their duty under the Equality Act. They should see equality impact analysis as an integral part of decision making. Not as a chore and another bit of paper to complete. But a task requiring insight, imagination and a deep understanding of the way different communities use and benefit from services.
At EW Group, we can work with you to both train your officials in best practice and to develop your equality analysis in specific areas of policy. Check out Equality Impact Assessment services, our Diversity Data short course and our bespoke diversity audit and analysis tools.