Memorandum submitted by the Equality Commission
for Northern Ireland |
"Young People should be at the forefront of
global change and innovation. Empowered they can be key agents
for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society's
margins, all of us will be impoverished"
(Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
("the Commission") is an independent public body established
under the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Commission is responsible
for implementing the legislation on fair employment, sex discrimination
and equal pay, race relations, age, sexual orientation and disability.
Our remit also includes overseeing the statutory duties on public
authorities to promote equality of opportunity and good relations
under section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the disability
duties in the Disability Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order
The Commission's general duties include:
working towards the elimination of discrimination;
promoting equality of opportunity and
encouraging good practice;
promoting positive/affirmative action;
promoting good relations between people
of different racial groups;
overseeing the implementation and effectiveness
of the statutory duties on relevant public authorities; and
keeping the legislation under review.
Children and young people are protected by the
full range of anti-discrimination legislation as cited above,
with particular protection afforded under the Employment Equality
(Age) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006. Further, children and
young people are included in the provisions of Section 75 of the
Northern Ireland Act which statutorily requires public authorities
to promote equality of opportunity and good relations in their
public policies and functions.
The Commission welcomes the opportunity to contribute
to this inquiry. Given our particular remit, the focus for our
contribution to this inquiry will be in relation to discrimination
and inequalities experienced by children and young people in Northern
Ireland. The Commission is currently prioritising addressing inequalities
in relation to children and education. As such, the Commission
requests that the attached document "Every Child an Equal
Child" is accepted by the committee as a core element
of our evidence to this inquiry.
Children in Northern Ireland make up 25% of
the population. More than one third of children (122,000) live
in poverty, with an estimated 44,000 living in extreme poverty.
Child poverty is more prevalent in NI than GB with an estimated
38% of children in Northern Ireland living without basic necessities
compared to 20% in Britain. Families of disabled children are
more likely to live in poverty.
Given the nexus between inequality and poverty, the
Commission has paid particular attention to inequalities that
present a risk of poverty within the context of current provisions
on the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations which currently covers
employment only and on wider public policy issues which are impacted
upon by Section 75 requirements.
The Commission has been consistent in our position
on employment matters relating to children young people, in particular
on the National Minimum Wage (NMW)
With the introduction of the National Minimum
Wage (NMW), the Commission had argued for the inclusion of people
under the age of 18 within its scope. The Commission has consistently
opposed the "banding" system within the NMW with lower
rates for 16-17 and 17-18 year olds. Unfortunately there has not
been a great deal of research carried out in Northern Ireland
on the NMW's age banding and any consequent problems, however
information from the Citizens Advice Bureau which runs the advice
line for the NMW here indicates that the majority of complaints
being received are coming from the 18 to 21 age group.
There is no evidence that the NMW has impacted
significantly on the Gender Pay Gap for younger people as a clear
differential in wage levels has been showing up from age 18 to
20 (Figure 1).
The concentration of young women in "training
posts" and the gender segregation of these posts which are
exempt from NMW coverage may account for the differential showing
up at age 18. However there is a shortage of reliable information
indicating causality in this area that needs to be addressed.
Additionally, the shortage of information on the operation of
the NMW in the two lower pay bands is preventing a clear picture
of the effects of this directly discriminatory practice from developing.
As an additional concern, children from the age of 13 to 16 have
no statutory minimum hourly rate for their work, and as has been
pointed out by the Children's Law Centre, children and young people
often are forced by circumstances to work to supplement low family
incomes and facilitate access to 3rd level education. In relation
to childhood poverty, research carried out in 2004
illustrated that there are higher levels of severe childhood poverty
(across all three measures) in Northern Ireland compared to the
rest of the UK.
The clearest counter argument in relation to
the age banding of the NMW however lies in its lack of proportionality
in terms of a "justification" under the Employment Directive.
While it is aimed at promoting a legitimate labour market aim,
ie promoting the labour market prospects of vulnerable young people,
its application to all young people makes it inherently disproportionate.
As noted above the Commission is prioritising
work in the area of education currently, recognising that educational
achievement has a profound influence on improving life chances
and the correlation between inequalities in education and child
poverty, in particular persistent poverty cycles that exist here
for many equality groups. There is clear evidence that children
and young people, who are already at risk of being marginalised
in society, including Traveller children, disabled children and
working class boys (in particular in Northern Ireland, working
class Protestant boys), often have lower levels of educational
As a somewhat stark illustration of the effect of
poverty or deprivation on life chances, a child born in a deprived
ward of Northern Ireland in 2001 was likely to live six years
less than their more affluent contemporaries and, in 2006, this
gap had only narrowly reduced to 5.8 years.
Infant mortality rates in deprived wards are a fifth higher than
those for the general population
and while there have been extensive improvements in relation to
cancer prevention and treatment, the incidence of cancer is up
to 74% higher in deprived areas than more affluent ones.
In relation to education and inequalities
generally, as cited earlier, the Commission attaches our recent
publication "Every child an equal child" which
we submit as evidence to this inquiry.
The commission welcomes the recent proposal
from the European Commission to make provision for the extension
of legislation prohibiting legislation on the grounds of age to
goods, facilities and services. This will provide additional protection
for children and young people in vital areas such as education,
health and housing.
The Commission responded to consultation on the discrimination
law review in GB and proposals for Single Equality Act (GB) in
September 2007, calling for the removal of a blanket exclusion
of children (ie people under 18) from the scope of any protection.
Historically, the Commission has not supported
blanket exclusion under any of the anti-discrimination statutes
and the ongoing development of European anti-discrimination law
is based on the widest scope of protection to all citizens with
limited exemptions that fall outside the general principle of
the promotion of equality. The Commission does not therefore support
the blanket exclusion of people under the age of 18 from statutory
protection against discriminatory acts on the grounds of age in
the provision of goods, facilities and services, etc. The Commission
assumes that the Government will take into account views on the
extent to which such an exception is considered compatible with
human rights legislation and the United Nations Convention on
the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
The Commission would stress that there is no
equivalent blanket exemption under the Age (Employment) Regulations
2006, which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of age, and
the introduction of an age bar on non-employment related provisions
would create a "disconnect" with the Employment Regulations.
The Commission also notes that age discrimination
as regards the provision of goods, facilities and services and
other non-employment related areas is protected under Ireland's
Equal Status Act 2000. Although there is a blanket exclusion as
regards people under 18, this exemption has resulted in considerable
difficulties and its repeal has been repeatedly recommended by
Ireland's Equality Authority.
Given the importance of provision of goods,
facilities and services to children and young people, the Commission
urges the committee to support its view on including children
and young people within the scope of legislation within GB and
SECTION 75 AND
Section 75(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998
requires a public authority,
designated for the purpose of the Act, in carrying out its functions
relating to Northern Ireland to have due regard to the need to
promote equality of opportunity:
(c) between persons with a disability and persons
(d) between persons with dependants and persons
Section 75(2) requires that, without prejudice
to its obligations under subsection (1), a public authority shall
in carrying out its functions in Northern Ireland have regard
to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons
of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.
Under Schedule 9 (1) of the Northern Ireland
Act 1998, the Equality Commission has a duty to:
(a) keep under review the effectiveness of the
duties imposed by Section 75; and
(b) offer advice and guidance to public authorities
and others in connection with these duties.
Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998
requires that public authorities in carrying out their functions
relating to Northern Ireland to have due regard to the need to
promote equality of opportunity in respect to nine categories,
one of which is age. Children and young people comprise one end
of the age spectrum and like individuals belonging to all other
section 75 categories have multiple identities, for example, as
girls or boys, as black and minority ethnic children, as disabled
children, or as gay and lesbian young people.
A central plank of Section 75 of the Northern
Ireland Act is consultation with individuals and groups affected
by a public policy. Public authorities must consult with children
and young people on policies that impact on their lives. To support
designated public authorities to undertake effective consultation
with children and young people, the Commission has published guidance
"Let's talk, Let's Listen" which offers advice
and good practice examples on including children and young people
in public policy decision making. A copy of this Guidance is attached
for additional information.
The involvement of children and young people
in decision making about their future development is essential
in giving them a sense of ownership and encouraging participation.
Research by the National Childrens Bureau and the Young Life and
Times Survey have indicated that the involvement of children and
young people in the development of strategies to deal with issues
such as bullying, is at the core of effective measures to address
the problem. The development of the curriculum is centrally driven
increasingly with reference to macro economic factors, rather
than with a view to developing an individual child to their full
capacity and in spheres where they have an interest. As with other
services, education is something that is "done" to children
and young people rather than something that they play a part in
(Article 12 UNCRC) The United Nations Convention
on the Rights of the Child says children have a right to be heard
on issues and decisions that affect their lives. Young people
are very often excluded from consultation processes and more importantly
decision making processes. This is particularly relevant to issues
around access to information and services around sexual health,
community safety issues, crime and law and order, education and
mental health services. Research by Youth Action
has shown that young people increasingly feel isolated from civic
society and are disengaging from political and decision making
The Commission has recently completed the first
strategic review of effectiveness of section 75 (final report
attached) and whilst much has been achieved through this groundbreaking
approach to mainstreaming equality in public policy and decision
making, many challenges were highlighted during the review. In
responding, the Commission is working with government and other
key partners to better realise the full potential of this creative
legislation, enhancing the public policy process to focus more
on positive impacts and outcomes for those experiencing inequalities,
essentially ensuring that Section 75 can improve the quality of
people's lives in Northern Ireland, as the legislation intended.
The Commission would welcome the opportunity
to discuss in more detail with the committee, the impact which
section 75 can have on achieving better equality for children
and young people, better relations in Northern Ireland through
work with children and young people. We also wish to discuss how
children and young people can have their rights recognised through
participating more effectively in public policy decision making.
The Commission welcomes the opportunity to contribute
to this inquiry, recognising its timelines for our work in respect
of refining the implementation of Section 75 and in terms of proposals
to extend anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of age
to goods, facilities and services. The Commission is ambitious
for greater equality and better relations for children and young
people here; we continue to use our powers and duties to increase
their participation as active members of a society attempting
to rebuild a sense of community after many years of conflict.
Children and young people are central to the process and the Commission
is keen to contribute to shaping and achieving the necessary changes.
We look forward to an opportunity to discuss the contribution
we make with the Joint Committee.
200 Youth Barometer 2005 Youth Council for Northern
The Bottom Line: Severe Child Poverty in Northern Ireland (Monteith
and McLaughlin, 2004). Back
Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern
Ireland 2007, Inequalities monitoring update 2. Back
Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 defines a public authority
"(a) any department, corporation
or body listed in Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Commissioner
Act 1967 (departments, corporations and bodies subject to investigation)
and designated for the purposes of this section by order made
by the Secretary of State;
(b) any body (other than the Equality
Commission) listed in Schedule 2 to the Commissioner for Complaints
(Northern Ireland) Order 1996 (bodies subject to investigation);
(c) any department or other authority
listed in Schedule 2 to the Ombudsman (Northern Ireland) Order
1996 (departments and other authorities subject to investigation);
(d) any other person designated for
the purposes of this section by order made by the Secretary of
"Its always in the back of your mind", Youth Action
research report, 2006. Back