Overhaul of discrimination laws into Single Equality Bill expected in draft Queen’s Speech

A major shake-up of discrimination laws is expected to be announced in Gordon Brown’s draft Queen’s Speech today.

Brown will outline the long-awaited Single Equality Bill, on a list of measures to be introduced during the 2008/9 Parliamentary session.

The Bill has been designed to make the UK’s discrimination legislative framework clearer. Currently nine pieces of major legislation work to prevent sex, race or disability discrimination.

A green paper, Discrimination Law Review: A Framework for Fairness: Proposals for a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain, was developed as a result of the Discrimination Law Review in February 2005, and was consulted on in September 2007.

Rachel Krys, director of the Employers Forum on Age, which represents employers on age-related issues, remains concerned that organisations will not get a chance to contribute properly to the debate on simplifying discrimination laws.

“It has been almost a year since the last green paper and while earlier this year, [equalities minister] Harriet Harman gave further insight into the proposals and indicated that there will be a further round of consultation, we fear that this will be too late for employers, lawyers and individuals to have a real opportunity to make a vital contribution to this debate.”

Krys called for an extension of the public sector’s duties to address inequalities in health and social care.

The Bill was originally planned to be announced in the November 2007 Queen’s Speech but was dropped following the consultation responses. Legal experts said the government was struggling to cope with wide-ranging responses to the consultation.

Meanwhile, employers’ groups, including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, have called for the three public sector duties on race, sex and disability to be replaced by an overarching single duty that also includes age, sexual orientation and religion.

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