The Equality Act 2010 was a landmark piece of legislation intended to build a fairer Britain, and safeguard and positively promote the rights of everyone.
This report, published on the 10th anniversary of the Act, highlights how exceptions within the Act intended to accommodate historic religious privileges are undermining efforts to achieve this.
• Education: The religious 'gaps' in the Equality Act take their heaviest toll on our children. Although our nation's schools should be beacons of tolerance and equality, the dominance of religion in British education systems shatters these aspirations. This report finds that exceptions to accommodate faith schools and religious practice in schools are leading to a level of religious discrimination that would not be tolerated in any other area of society.
• Caste-based discrimination: Migration into the UK from Asia has meant caste-based discrimination and harassment has become a feature of British life. Although tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands of people belonging to oppressed castes live in the UK, they still have no genuine protection from discrimination.
• Employment: There is evidence that some organisations might be using the 'genuine occupational requirement' exceptions in the Equality Act as 'loopholes' to avoid employing people who don't belong to the 'right' religion in seemingly secular roles. This shuts off job opportunities for talented people who do not share the same beliefs.
Now is the time to redouble our efforts and continue to build a just and equal society. The Equality Act has created a wonderful base for us to build on –
Faith-shaped holes shows us how we go further and continue the fight for a fair, just and inclusive Britain.
1. Remove exceptions that enable state-funded schools to discriminate against individuals on the basis of religion or belief.
This would have broad and positive implications for our school system. It would mean no state-funded school could discriminate against pupils in their admissions on the basis of their family's religion or religious activities, or by having a curriculum that favours a particular religion or belief. It would also protect staff and governors from religion-based discrimination, and necessitate the removal of the collective worship requirement for all schools. Finally, it would end the privileging of religious families in the school transport policies of local authorities.
2. Add 'caste' as a protected characteristic.
This would provide a legal remedy for people affected by the insidious problem of caste-based discrimination.
3. Strengthen protections against discrimination in recruitment for religious organisations
At present, some organisations appear to be applying the 'genuine occupational requirement' exceptions from equality law too broadly, resulting in unnecessary and potentially unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. There needs to be greater clarification of what does and does not count as a 'genuine occupational requirement', and greater enforcement where the law is potentially breached.