Making the Gender Equality Duty work for all women in local government

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2007 Local Government Service Group Conference
23 February 2007
Carried as Amended

Conference welcomes the new duty on local authorities and other public bodies in England, Scotland and Wales to proactively promote gender equality, following the similar, longer-standing duty in Northern Ireland.

The gender duty requires local authorities, when carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the need to:

1Promote equality of opportunity between women and men

2Eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment.

The duty includes specific reference to the requirement to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment in employment and vocational training, for people who intend to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment.

Conference believes the gender duty can give new impetus to work on the Equality Standards for Local Government in England and in Wales – the stated aims of which are to be tools to enable local authorities to mainstream age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation into council policy and practice at all levels – and equivalent work in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Conference notes that the Equality Standards produced by the Employers Organisation for Local Government in England and Wales do not apply in Scotland. However, equality protection is contained within the Scotland Act and in the Best Value legislation.

Conference also welcomes the decision by the Scottish Executive to extend the specific duties of the Gender Equality Duty to include that all listed public authorities which have at least 150 full time equivalent staff must publish an equal pay policy by 28 September 2007, and that Scottish Ministers have an additional duty to publish reports every three years.

However Conference is concerned that local authorities’ work on promoting gender equality may be limited. Conference notes that the response to the race equality duty, which came into force in 2002, has been patchy and disappointing. Those authorities that are committed to race equality have used the duty to improve their performance. However, a significant proportion have failed to prioritise their race equality work. Further, there is concern that in implementing the gender duty, the particular needs of black women, disabled women, lesbian and bisexual women, and transgender women and men may not be adequately addressed.

Conference notes that the addition of age, religion or belief and sexual orientation to the Local Government Equality Standards follow reviews held in 2005/6 and are still being integrated. Authorities in England reporting level 2 or above in their 2006/7 Best Value Performance Indicators returns have until March 2009 to incorporate the additional three equality strands.

There can be no doubt there is still much to be done. For example, guidance published in 2006 by the Scottish Executive for local authorities on ‘Improving policy and practice for LGBT people’ showed that while all 32 Councils have an equality policy, only nine referred to sexual orientation and only one had a separate LGBT policy; that LGBT issues are not often clearly stated in council equality policies; that only three councils monitor the effectiveness of their policies for LGBT people; and that every council said they had insufficient information about LGBT people.

Conference welcomes the recent UNISON guidance on the statutory equality duties. Conference believes this demonstrates how the gender duty offers UNISON an unmissable opportunity to raise the profile of our equalities agenda for local government workers. The gender duty, unlike the race duty, includes a requirement to consult trade unions.

Conference calls on the Local Government Service Group Executive to consider how to maximise the benefit of the gender duty for all local government workers, including black women, disabled women, lesbian and bisexual women, and transgender women and men, including by:

apromoting the UNISON guidance to local government branches;

burging regional local government committees and branches to draw up gender equality action plans;

cpushing local government employers to comply with the duty to consult unions on their gender equality plans;

d Promoting UNISON training on how the duties can be used in negotiations and organising.