The Equality Act 2010 (EA) brings together various public sector equality duties under a new single equality duty. This requires public bodies to consider various factors such as race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, and religion or belief when making decisions about the exercise of their functions. The aim is to “promote the development of more personalised public services… and place the achievement of equality outcomes at the heart of our public services”. The new general duty is underpinned by the specific duties which applied under previous legislation.
On 18 January 2011, sections 151 to 155, section 157 and Schedule 19 of the EA all came into force. These provisions relate to the application of the EA to certain public bodies. Essentially, they allow Ministers to add to the list of public bodies who are currently subjected to the equality duty. The current list includes the Police and the NHS. The specific duties which are to underpin the new single duty are not detailed in the EA. However, the EA grants Ministers power to impose these specific duties by way of secondary legislation.
Specific duties may be imposed on a public authority, for example, in connection with its public procurement functions. The public sector spends approximately £175 million each year on goods and services. Some public authorities already use equality duties when putting work out for tender, for example, by asking contractors for a breakdown of their workforce by ethnicity or gender. The aim of these provisions is to enable Ministers to set out how public bodies can go about using procurement more consistently to help achieve equality objectives.