It’s time to grapple with the Public Sector Equality Duty…

We are campaigning for better spaces and facilities for teenage girls for a whole range of reasons. We have great positive motivators for our campaign: fairness between boys and girls; the right of girls to feel they belong outdoors; improvements in individual and public health; and parks and public spaces that feel inclusive and welcoming to all sections of our community.

And we can also use the law. We’ve got a few legal tools in our armoury: the laws against direct and indirect sex discrimination; the ability to get information from councils using The Freedom of Information Act; and the Public Sector Equality Duty which is what I am going to discuss now (we will return to some of the other tools another day). 

What is the Public Sector Equality Duty? 

The Public Sector Equality Duty is a legal obligation in the Equality Act 2010, imposed on all “public authorities”.  This is a pretty wide term and there is a great long list of them at the back of the Equality Act. But for our purposes it includes: county councils, district councils, parish councils, the Greater London Authority and London borough councils. In other words, the people who make the decisions about what goes on in parks and outdoor spaces.

The point of the Public Sector Equality Duty is to make these authorities think about the impact of their decisions on people who are disadvantaged by discrimination. This means that when public authorities decide to spend their scarce resources on skate parks, pump tracks and MUGAs they must comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty.   In this case, the disadvantaged group are girls: you only have to look at who is using the skate parks, MUGAs and pump tracks to see this.  

A key aspect of the Public Sector Equality Duty is that it requires public authorities, when they are making decisions, to have due regard to the need to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination;
  • advance equality of opportunity between advantaged and disadvantaged groups; and
  • foster good relations between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. 

So, it isn’t about taking decision making away from local authorities or about dictating the outcome of the decisions. It is about making sure that public authorities have thought about these things when they make decisions.  In theory, things will then get better.

In this sense the Public Sector Equality Duty is clearly a carrot. But the Public Sector Equality Duty is also a stick: if public authorities don’t comply with the Public Sector Equality when they decide to commission another skate park, they are breaking the law and could be taken to court under the process of judicial review.   

You may have a question by now.  How come, if this duty has been around for so many years, the country is not covered in playgrounds designed for teenage girls as well as boys?  it’s a good point, and one that will have to wait for another blog.

But we shouldn’t let the fact that it hasn’t worked so far to stop us using the Public Sector Equality Duty to advance our campaign.  The more we draw the attention of councils to the fact that they legally need to consider teenage girls when they design parks and leisure spaces, the quicker things will change.

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