The Equality Act 2006 amends the SDA to place a statutory duty on all public authorities, when carrying out their functions, to have due regard to the need:
to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment
to promote equality of opportunity between men and women.
This is known as the 'general duty’ and will come into effect on 6 April 2007.
The duty applies to all public authorities in respect of all of their functions (with limited exceptions described in Appendix B). This means it applies to policy-making, service provision, employment matters, and in relation to enforcement or any statutory discretion and decision-making. It also applies to a public authority in relation to services and functions which are contracted out. In addition, it applies to private and voluntary bodies which are carrying out public functions, but only in respect of those functions. For examples of the kind of public authorities which are covered, see Appendix A.
Public authorities are expected to have 'due regard' to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment and promote equality of opportunity between men and women in all of their functions. Due regard comprises two linked elements: proportionality and relevance. The weight which public authorities give to gender equality should therefore be proportionate to its relevance to a particular function. The greater the relevance of a function to gender equality, the greater regard which should be paid to it. For more detail on due regard and the component parts of the duty, see Chapter 2, paragraphs 2.1–2.16 and 2.21-2.32.
As part of the duty, public authorities are required to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment in employment and vocational training (including further and higher education), for people who intend to undergo, are undergoing or have undergone gender reassignment. For the purposes of this Code, the expression ‘transsexual people’ is used to refer to the people who are covered by those provisions. For more detail, see Chapter 2, paragraphs 2.17–2.20.
To support progress in delivering the general duty, there is also a series of ‘specific duties’ which apply to listed public authorities as laid out in the Order in Appendix C. The Order sets out steps those authorities must take to help them meet the general duty.
Those specific duties, in brief, are:
To prepare and publish a gender equality scheme, showing how it will meet its general and specific duties and setting out its gender equality objectives.
In formulating its overall objectives, to consider the need to include objectives to address the causes of any gender pay gap.
To gather and use information on how the public authority's policies and practices affect gender equality in the workforce and in the delivery of services.
To consult stakeholders (i.e. employees, service users and others, including trade unions) and take account of relevant information in order to determine its gender equality objectives.