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Will proposed equality duty have teeth?

The Forum is seeking clarification of how the public sector duty promised in the Equality Bill, which had its final reading in the House of Commons last month, will actually work.

The duty, as set out in the Bill, calls on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between women and men and to prohibit sex discrimination in the exercise of public functions. The government will shortly publish its plans for the secondary legislation required to implement the duty.

MHF CEO Peter Baker said: 'Our concerns in this period are what steps are being taken to ensure the duty will be enforceable and when will the role of GPs be confirmed?

'The duty needs teeth if it is to meet the spirit of its clauses in the Equality Act. Some options put forward would give service providers such leeway in implementing the duty that it will end up unenforceable.'

There is particular concern over the fact that as it stands the definition of what is 'proportionate and relevant' for local authorities to do to comply appears to be down to the authorities themselves to decide. 'We would like to see some generalised national guidance setting out the kinds of criteria that need to be considered,' said Peter.

'Moreover, GPs' key position in primary care means it is vital they are covered by the law. But it is unclear in documents so far published and enquiries made to government whether GPs will be covered.'

The MHF has been making the case for improvements in health service delivery to men for several years and it is now clearly established and rarely disputed, that men fare less well than women in the great majority of disease areas.


It is the Forum's hope that adherence of health authorities to the requirements of the new legislation and their acknowledgment of the spirit and culture-changing intent of the 'gender duty', will lead to a new recognition of the importance of gender as a determinant of health.

'We need measurable indicators to ensure that health providers engage with the issue,' Peter concluded. 'This is because attitudes are so entrenched and because the evidence base for good practice is presently so poor.'

Page created on February 9th, 2006

Page updated on December 1st, 2009