The Equality Act has gained royal assent, paving the way for a new ‘one-stop shop’ for advice on employers’ and individuals’ rights and duties under discrimination law.
Under the Act, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) will bring together the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission from October 2007.
The Commission for Racial Equality will join in 2009, putting expertise on equality, diversity and human rights all in one place.
The CEHR will be required to produce a regular ‘equality health check’ for the UK and to work with individuals, communities, businesses and public services to find new, more effective ways to combat discrimination.
The Act also introduces a new gender duty, which will require public bodies to take account of the different needs of men and women to ensure equality of opportunity when preparing policies or providing services.
Meg Munn, deputy minister for women and equality, said the Equality Act marked a transformation in the way modern Britain tackles discrimination.
“The CEHR will be a powerful body dedicated to fighting discrimination, prejudice and inequality and promoting fairness for everyone,” she said.
Arguments still remain over whether a single equality Act should be created to support the work of the CEHR.
The public sector is pressing for a single equality Act to bring all the present discrimination law together to ensure that all the groups covered by the CEHR have the same degree of protection from discrimination.
However, the CBI said employers would strongly oppose the creation of a single Act.
Neil Bentley, the CBI’s head of public services and diversity and a member of the CEHR taskforce, said: “Rushing towards a single equality Act could be an attempt to rush through a one-size-fits-all approach, with all rights and duties raised to the highest common denominator.”