What is the Equality Act 2010?
Equality law affects everyone who is providing a service or carrying out a function, including people who are running an organisation or who might do something on its behalf, such as staff or volunteers. For the first time, equality legislation now specifically refers to political parties and outlines duties which all political parties must comply with.
The law applies to political parties at a national, regional, constituency and local level and to people working for them or making decisions about the party’s membership and activities.
In many cases, the law now reflects best practice that the Party has followed for some time. However, it is now essential that party members, especially those in elected positions within the Party structures, have a good understanding of their responsibilities under the Act.
This guidance is relevant for all party members, and should be distributed as widely as possible amongst regional and local committees. Please ensure that all local Party Officers are aware of this information, and do everything they can do.
The key relevant sections refer to:
- Joining and belonging to a political party
- Reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people
- Positive action in the selection of candidates
- Collection of information about candidates’ protected characteristics
The law protects people from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics.
The nine 'protected characteristics' are listed here –
- Religion and belief
- Sexual orientation
- Gender reassignment
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Marriage and civil partnership
Definitions of these protected characteristics can be found here.
Joining and belonging to a political party
A political party must not refuse membership to anyone as a prospective member or grant membership on less favourable terms because of a protected characteristic.
They must not offer membership terms, benefits and services that are discriminatory, whether that is direct discrimination or indirect discrimination.
An example of direct discrimination would be if a political party refuses to accept someone’s application for membership because of a person’s race and/or religion or belief.
An example of indirect discrimination would be if the party imposed a condition on the person which is harder for them to comply with because of their race or their religion or belief, such as that in order to become a member, they had to attend a set number of meetings, all of which take place during their religious holiday. This would be indirect discrimination unless the party could show that the condition is objectively justified.
This legislation includes all activities that are directly related to political activity, whether people are members or not.
Reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people
‘Reasonable adjustments’ are changes which can reasonably be made to enable disabled members to integrate fully into the organisation and not be disadvantaged because of their disability. The aim of reasonable adjustments is to make sure that disabled people are able to join a political party or use its services as far as is reasonable to the same standard as non-disabled people.
Political parties are now legally obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people.
A political party cannot wait until a disabled person wants to join it or use its services, but must think in advance about what people with a range of impairments might reasonably need, such as people who have a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, a mobility impairment or a learning disability.
Reasonable adjustments are not just about physical accessibility, although this is important for some disabled people, but can be about the conditions that are put on membership or the way in which services are offered.
The Government Equalities Office has issued further guidance and advice on this aspect of the legislation - https://www.gov.uk/rights-disabled-person/employment. The Government is also implementing other activities to encourage disabled people to stand for elected office, under the ‘Access to Elected Office Strategy’. This will include funding for political candidates to make reasonable adjustments which enable them to campaign effectively.
Positive action in the selection of candidates
Political parties now have additional legal freedom to take targeted action to address under-representation of particular groups within elected bodies. However, the use of positive action by political parties is voluntary, not something they can be made to do.
A political party is allowed to target activities towards people with a particular protected characteristic through ‘positive action’.
The Party must be able to show that the characteristic these people share means they have a different need or a past track record of disadvantage or low participation in the sort of activities the organisation runs. It must go through a number of steps to decide whether positive action is needed and what sort of action to take.
Changes to selection arrangements can include steps the party takes to:
- encourage prospective candidates with a particular protected characteristic to come forward, for example, by holding an event just for them or writing just to members who share the under-represented protected characteristic
- increase candidates’ prospects of being selected, for example, by giving public speaking training only to people with the under-represented protected characteristic
- identify suitable candidates, for example, by reducing the time people with the underrepresented protected characteristic have to have been party members to be allowed to stand for election
- to reserve places on a shortlist for people with the under-represented protected characteristic.
If a political party decides to use positive action, it must show that what it intends to do:
- will address the under-representation of its elected representatives
- with the particular protected characteristic or characteristics in relation to which it is taking the positive action
- in the particular body for election to which it is selecting its candidates, and is proportionate.
The Liberal Democrats are committed to increasing the diversity of our elected representatives, and using mechanisms within selection rules and processes to achieve this aim.
Collecting diversity information about candidates
The Equality Act 2010 recommends that political parties collect and publish diversity monitoring data on candidates. It also suggests that all political parties should publish this anonymous data on a regular basis, and all three main parties have agreed to do this.
The Liberal Democrats are committed to providing equal opportunities and fair treatment for all members. We ask all potential candidates to complete a diversity monitoring form with their application to become an approved candidate in order to ensure that we are attracting a representative group of potential candidates and addressing the needs of all members in our recruitment process. However, this is entirely voluntary, and candidates do not have to answer any of the questions if they do not wish to.
The information given on the form is held in accordance with the Party’s data protection policy, and is used by the Candidates’ Office to provide statistical analysis of our candidate base. It is only published publicly on an anonymous statistical basis.
Additional sources of advice and guidance
This guide expands on this short overview, and explains how members and potential members of political parties should be treated, in relation to its terms of membership and its activities, and how political parties can use positive action in the selection of candidates.
Further information about what the Government is doing to encourage more disabled people to stand for elected office.
A great introduction to the Equality Act, including videos and FAQs
For further questions or queries about how this guidance affects you or your local Party, please contact the Liberal Democrat Diversity and Outreach Team, on 0207 340 4992.