This section provides a brief overview of the key legislation relating to ethnicity, national identity and religion.
- Equalities Act 2010
- Public sector equality duty
- Specific duties
- Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998
- Policy and service delivery
- Data Protection Acts
- What is express consent?
- Specific requirements for asking questions on a survey in Scotland
- Specific requirements for asking questions on a survey in Northern Ireland
The new Equalities Act 2010 has brought together over 116 separate pieces of legislation into one single Act. It provides a new discrimination law with a legal framework that protects the rights of individuals from unfair treatment and pushes forward equality of opportunity for all.
Equality Law applies regardless of:
the size of the organisation
the sector of work
whether there is one worker or hundreds or thousands of workers
whether or not the organisation uses formal processes or forms to help inform decisions
The new public sector equality duty, which applies to all bodies carrying out public functions, came into force on 5 April 2011 and covers the 8 protected characteristics defined in the Equality Act among which are race, religion and belief. The duty requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations in the course of developing policies and delivering services.
In addition, the Equality Act gives the Government a power to impose specific duties on certain public bodies which set out steps they must undertake to enable them to better perform the public sector equality duty.
Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act requires public authorities in carrying out their functions relating to Northern Ireland, to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity;
between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation; between men and women generally; between persons with a disability and persons without; between persons with dependants and persons without.
Without prejudice to these obligations, a public authority is also required, in carrying out its functions, to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.
There is no express requirement under the public sector equality duty to collect monitoring information. However, in order to meet the duty public bodies need to understand the impact of their work and collecting monitoring information is likely to be an effective way of gathering sufficient information to enable them to do this.
Under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, public bodies must monitor for adverse impact of their policies and publish the results of this monitoring.
Laws exist to protect the confidentiality of data about living individuals (‘personal data’) and give individuals rights to privacy or to access information held about them by public authorities. These laws are:
Data Protection Act 1998
Human Rights Act 1998; and
Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Data Protection Act is concerned with the fair and lawful processing of personal data. Information about an individual’s ethnic background and religion is classified as sensitive personal data. Sensitive data are recognised under European and domestic law and the conditions for processing such data are listed in the Data Protection Act.
Legally, express consent means that respondents have authorised their data to be processed for the purposes that they have been informed about. This will assist with compliance with the first principle of the Data Protection Act.
If there are plans to share sensitive data there is a responsibility to ensure that all parties processing the data are aware of the responsibilities and duties under the Data Protection Act, and that this is part of a formal data access agreement.
Following the Race Equality Advisory Forum in 2001 and concerns by some communities in Scotland about the classifications used in the 2001 Census, the Scottish Government and the General Register Office for Scotland worked together to conduct a review. This review came with specific requirements for the ethnicity classification for Scotland which was subsequently discussed by Members of the Scottish Parliament and amended for use on the Scottish 2011 Census.
For Northern Ireland, specific requirements comply with the Good Friday Agreement (where it is not acceptable to ask respondents to choose between ‘Northern Irish/British’ and ‘Irish identities’) and legislation under the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 which outlaws discrimination on grounds of colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin. The Irish Traveller community is specifically identified in the Order as a racial group against which racial discrimination is unlawful.