The first draft of the long awaited Equality Bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 24 April 2009. If enacted in its current form the Bill will do the following:
- It will require strategic authorities, when making decisions of a strategic nature, to have regard to the desirability of exercising their functions so as to reduce the inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage.
- It will require public sector bodies, in exercising their functions, to have regard to: the need to eliminate prohibited discrimination including age discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between protected groups and others. All protected groups covered by discrimination legislation are covered except those with marital/civil partnership status. This duty also applies to private bodies to the extent that they are exercising public functions. Consultation over specific duties is to follow.
- It will reform and harmonise the definition of direct and indirect discrimination in respect of the nine strands of discrimination so that there is standardised wording. Each strand will continue to have different exceptions.
- It will introduce a new extended definition of disability discrimination, which will include associative discrimination, and there will be a revamped definition of the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
- It will extend the age discrimination legislation to apply to the provision of goods and services subject to consultation this summer.
- It will modify equal pay provisions so that employers will not be able to have "secrecy clauses" in contracts that seek to stop employees discussing their pay packages and certain employers may be required to publish information about the differences in pay between male and female employees.
The Bill is due to take effect in 2010, however it is currently subject to parliamentary debate so the provisions may change considerably before they are enacted. As a result, there is every possibility that the timetable may slip into 2011 or beyond.