Equality during a pandemic and beyond

Ten years on from the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 we review whether it has done what it was set out to do. We also consider the impact of COVID-19 on the experiences of women, particularly those with several of the Act’s protected characteristics. Finally, we reflect on how we see the formation of our ‘Inclusive Practice’ subcommittee helping us to do even more for the women and families in our community.

What is the Equality Act?

The Equality Act 2010 was designed to bring together previously piecemeal legislation, making the law easier to understand and in theory, stronger.

The Act set out ‘protected characteristics’ which are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex and sexual orientation

This meant it was now illegal to discriminate against people, particularly in the workplace, based on these characteristics.

How the Act is letting some women down

The Government has faced criticism since the launch of the Act as certain elements have not actually been enforced in law. This has meant that the Act’s ability to drive meaningful change for people with the above characteristics is hindered. For instance, it includes guidance that employers should offer enhanced shared parental pay but there’s no legal requirement. This means that it can be difficult for parents to share the responsibility for taking time off work to care for their child, leading to mothers taking more time off work and fathers missing out on time with their children.

Parts of the Act have also been removed or changed since the legislation was published. For instance, soon after it was published, the Government removed the socio-economic duty  which was designed to decrease the gap between the richest and poorest in our society. The Government also removed the right for people to claim discrimination against more than one characteristic, not recognising how for instance, an LGBT+ black woman with a disability may be more at risk to discrimination than a straight, white, non-disabled woman. Read more on the Fawcett Society’s website.

If you were to consider the Equality Act in terms of outcomes, one you might consider would be the gender pay gap. This has actually narrowed by only 0.6% since 2012 and for some types of work, the gap has actually increased (see more on the Office of National Statistics website).

The Equality Act in the time of COVID

While the Equality Act was heralded as a landmark set of legislation when it was published in 2010, clearly there’s more to be done to improve inequality in our society.

This fact has been highlighted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, as it is becoming increasingly clear that some people in our society are impacted far more than others. We know that the virus is having a disproportionate effect on minority communities and it is also becoming apparent that the impact of the lockdown is having an unequal effect on the lives of women, compared to men.

Women already take on disproportionately more childcare and domestic duties than men so when forced to work from home, this becomes an almost impossible balancing act, inevitably impacting on women’s physical and mental health. Women are also more likely to work on the frontline of healthcare, caring for those with COVID-19. Did you know that 77% the NHS’s frontline staff are women?

The lockdown has also meant more time spent in homes with perpetrators of domestic abuse and there has been a well-documented spike in violence in homes. A study by Women’s Aid in April 2020 found that “67% of survivors who are currently experiencing abuse said it has got worse since COVID-19 and 72% said their abuser had more control over their life.” This study also recorded a disturbing trend in increasing abuse towards children.

What are Broxtowe Women’s Project doing?

In May 2020, we wrote a blog about how women being domestically abused can stay safer during lockdowns. You can read this on the Broxtowe Women’s Project website.

As a charity, we have recognised that while we pride ourselves as a women-led charity, serving the women and their families of Broxtowe, there may be women living on our patch who may need different help or may look to access this support in different ways (read more on our blog for Black History Month on our website).

That’s why we decided to establish an internal Inclusive Practice Subcommittee, made up of trustees and staff, to review the accessibility of our services and to work with our partners to ensure the robust delivery of services to those who need them most.

If you have any comments on this you’d like to share with us please don’t hesitate to email us at enquiries@broxtowewp.org or call 01773 718555.