Equality Bill gains passage through House of Commons with key changes

The Equality Bill has been succesfully passed through the House of Commons with a majority of the house showing support for thr bill.  The legislative proposals will now progress to the second stage of being put through the House of Lords before being passed as law.

Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, welcomed the successful completion of the Equality Bill through the House of Commons with the important key additions:-

1. The socio-economic duty, which imposes a requirement on key public bodies such as government departments and local authorities to narrow the gap between rich and poor, will now also apply in Scotland.

2. Strengthened protection for disabled people against discrimination, such as restricting the use of pre-employment questionnaires about health or disability during the recruitment process.

The clause regarding pre-employment questionnaires addresses concerns raised by disability organisations that, because there is no restriction under the Disability Discrimination Act, there is fairly widespread use of such enquiries by employers to discriminate against people who declared a disability by not selecting them for interview or other selection stages.

The amendment means that an employer will be deterred from asking candidates questions about their health until after they have shown they meet some of the non-health criteria of a job3. If an employer asks a question before this stage it may be found to have directly discriminated against a disabled candidate.

There are specified instances where the employer can make health and disability related enquiries before short-listing a candidate after an interview.  These are for the purposes of:

  • Making reasonable adjustments to enable the disabled person to participate in the recruitment process;
  • Monitoring diversity in applications for jobs;
  • Supporting positive action in employment for disabled people;
  • Enabling an employer to identify suitable candidates for a job where there is a genuine occupational requirement for the person to be disabled; and
  • National security vetting.

If an applicant is rejected after an employer makes an enquiry that is not permitted, the burden of proof in an Employment Tribunal will shift to the employer

Ms Harman said:

"I'm pleased that the Bill has completed its passage in the House of Commons, and I want to congratulate the ministerial team of equality bill ministers, Vera Baird and Michael Foster, who steered it through. I look forward to it taking its place on the statute book, following further scrutiny by the House of Lords.
"This landmark Bill contains groundbreaking provisions to narrow the gap between rich and poor, and fight discrimination in all its forms - including age discrimination.
"This Bill will make Britain a more equal place, and help us build a stronger economy and fairer society for the future."

An innovative, new 'Easy Read' version of the Equality Bill is being published today to help improve understanding of the concepts involved in the Bill for wider audiences. The document is available online at www.equalities.gov.uk.


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Asif Yusuf


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