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Why is equality and diversity important?

Equality and diversity are essential components of health and social care. Good equality and diversity practices make sure that the services provided to people are fair and accessible to everyone. They ensure that people are treated as equals, that people get the dignity and respect they deserve and that their differences are celebrated.

This is particularly important for adults in need who, because of a disability, illness or their age, are unable to take adequate care of themselves and keep themselves from harm.

What is equality and diversity?

Equality means ensuring everyone in your setting has equal opportunities, regardless of their abilities, their background or their lifestyle.

Diversity means appreciating the differences between people and treating people’s values, beliefs, cultures and lifestyles with respect.

How does the law promote equality and diversity?

Anti-discriminatory practice is fundamental to the ethical basis of care provision and critical to the protection of people's dignity. There are four main acts relating to equality and diversity:

  • The Equality Act 2010 – this legislation provides protection against discrimination for people who possess one or more of the nine specific protected characteristics. The protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. To discriminate against any of these characteristics is a breach of the law.
  • The Human Rights Act 1998 – this legislation outlines the basic human rights and principles of equality. The ‘FREDA’ acronym helps you to remember what is covered by the Act: Fairness, Respect, Equality, Dignity and Autonomy.
  • The Mental Capacity Act 2005 – notably the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) which aim to help people who lack the capacity to maintain their independence, dignity and the right to freedom. The DoLS aid vulnerable individuals to maintain their right to dignity and equality.
  • The Care Act 2014 – this legislation provides six key principles which should underpin all work with vulnerable adults. This includes ensuring that adults receive support that’s personal to them, chosen by them and has their consent.

What are the nine protected characteristics?

  • Age: The Act protects people of all ages. Although the specific protections have not yet been fully implemented, age is still the ONLY protected characteristic by which direct, or indirect discrimination can be justified.
  • Disability: The Act applies to a range of people who have a condition (physical or psychological) which has a significant and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out ‘day to day’ tasks. It also covers those who are diagnosed with a progressive illness (HIV or Cancer, for example.)
  • Gender Reassignment: The definition of gender reassignment has been expanded to include people who choose to live as the opposite gender to the gender assigned to them at birth by removing the previous legal requirement for them to have undergone an official medical procedure.
  • Marriage and Civil Partnership: The Act protects employees who are married or in a civil partnership against discrimination. Single people are not protected.
  • Pregnancy and Maternity (Including breastfeeding mothers): A woman is protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy and maternity. With regard to employment, the woman is protected during the period of her pregnancy and any statutory maternity leave to which she is entitled. Also, it is unlawful to discriminate against those who breastfeed in public.
  • Race: This includes colour, ethnic/national origin or nationality.
  • Religion or belief: The Act covers any religion, religious or non-religious beliefs. Also includes philosophical belief or non-belief. To be protected, a belief must satisfy various criteria, including that it is a weight and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. The law has recently recognised Veganism as a protected characteristic.
  • Sex: Previously referred to as gender. Applies to male or female.
  • Sexual orientation: The Act protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual people.

Public sector equality duty

The Equality Act places an equality duty on public bodies; it came into force on 5 April 2011. The equality duty intends to ensure that public bodies are proactive in eliminating unlawful discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations. They must consider equality issues in everything they do with regard to the protected characteristics.

This means the local authority has a duty to consider the diverse needs of the individuals they serve, minimising disadvantage and ensuring the inclusion of under-represented groups. It must ensure that those organisations carrying out duties on its behalf also comply with this duty. Service providers must comply with equalities law and the commissioning authority must ensure providers are able to meet the requirements of the law.

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