Enforcing the Equality Act: the law and the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission Contents

5Enforcing the Equality Act at the heart of Government policy

128.We have been faced with numerous examples where the Government failed to consider the Equality Act, or its enforcement, in their wider strategies and plans. Our 2018 inquiry into Older Workers found that the Government had failed to include action to improve compliance with the Equality Act 2010 in its Fuller Working Lives Strategy. We recommended that

[The Government] engage with the Equality and Human Rights Commission with a view to agreeing enforcement actions that can be included as specific commitments in the [Fuller Working Lives] strategy.143

Sadly, this recommendation was not accepted and the Fuller Working Lives strategy still omits action to tackle age discrimination in employment.

129.We explain above how the Government’s Director of Labour Market Enforcement had given no consideration to discrimination in employment or the Equality Act.144 The failure of the Government to raise Equality Act compliance with Sir David was particularly disappointing, given the fact that his own Labour Market Enforcement Strategy identifies the importance of Government policies that “coherently create incentives for firms to be compliant” and “removes [an] environment in which non-compliance can be part of a business model.”145

130.When we asked the Minister and the Government Equalities Office why there was nothing referring to discrimination in Sir David Metcalf’s work and only minimal mention in the Government’s own Good Work Plan, Baroness Williams told us that:

Equality and discrimination should underline absolutely—they should be the baseline for everything we do. Maybe we should have explicitly mentioned it, but I think it is quite important that they underline everything that we do, both as a Government and through business. It is almost a given, but maybe we should have explicitly mentioned it.146

131.We welcome this acknowledgement, but it was clear to us that the omission of equality and non-discrimination from Sir David Metcalf’s Strategy was not because it was so implicit that it did not need a mention. It was because he did not know his obligations under the Equality Act and because Ministers and officials failed to ensure he was fully aware of them.147

132.In May 2018 we published a report into the role of the Minister for Women and Equalities and the place of GEO in government. We were concerned that instability in the position of equalities in the machinery of government had led to disruption and confusion and gave the impression that equality is a low priority for the Government.148 The examples above suggest that the decision to move the GEO into the Cabinet Office has not yet remedied its lack of impact across Government.

133.We have seen repeated examples of Government Strategies that fail to recognise discrimination, let alone contain actions to secure compliance with the Equality Act. This failure leaves the Government at serious risk of breaching the public sector equality duty in its most important strategies and means that individuals facing discrimination continue to bear the full burden of enforcement, even in policy areas that the Government has identified as of central importance to the country. We are disappointed that the Government Equalities Office has not been able to secure greater compliance with the law by other Government Departments.

134.The Government must put in place a mechanism to ensure that every one of its strategies, plans, and policies, such as the Good Work Plan, the Industrial Strategy and Fuller Working Lives contain explicit plans to improve enforcement of rights under the Equality Act 2010 in the area that it deals with. The Government Equalities Office must be empowered to oversee this mechanism and no significant strategy, plan or policy should be signed off by a Minister without them assuring themselves that such plans are included.

143 Women and Equalities Committee, Fourth Report of the Session 2017–19, Older People and Employment, HC 359, para 30

148 Women and Equalities Committee, Second Report of Session 2017–19, The role of Minister for Women and Equalities and the place of GEO in government, HC 356, para 25

Published: 30 July 2019