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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Equality law 'should go further'
Restrictions at golf clubs will be banned under the law
Campaigners have urged the government to go further with proposals for a single equality law, saying more needs to be done for victims of inequality.

The Single Equality Bill was criticised as merely "tinkering" with issues like pay equality and age discrimination.

The government says it wants to clarify the "piecemeal" legislation that has cropped up over 40 years.

Issues addressed include elderly people being refused credit cards and loans, and women breastfeeding in public.

The bill, which covers England, Wales and Scotland, aims to draw together the current patchwork of laws regarding sex, race and religious discrimination.

'Lagged behind'

The Green Paper, essentially a discussion paper designed to lead to a future bill, will be consulted on until September.

Among its proposals are measures to tackle age discrimination, on which campaigners say the government has "lagged behind" efforts to tackle race, gender and disability discrimination.

The paper notes concerns that older people in hospital or care services are sometimes not treated with dignity, while others are discriminated against when they apply for loans.

This should be an opportunity to do something more ambitious than simply ensuring that women get a place at the bar in the local golf club
Trevor Phillips
Commission for Equalities and Human Rights

But it says it wants to protect positive age-related measures, like concessionary bus passes and holidays catering for older people.

It also proposes requiring landlords to carry out alterations to communal areas, like stairs and hallways, if they have a disabled tenant. The paper says that many people end up "virtual prisoners in their own home".

Landlords would not be able to refuse to install alterations like wheelchair ramps and stair lifts, if the tenant pays for it themselves.

But Disability Rights Commission chief executive Bob Niven said it "failed to measure up".

Tougher enforcement

Planes and ships would still be excluded from equal access laws, he said, and there were no measures to make it easier to bring cases against bosses.

He said tougher enforcement was needed of existing anti-discrimination laws, which were being repeatedly broken by businesses and employers.

And Kate Jopling, of Help the Aged, said it was a "disgrace" that efforts to deliver equality on the grounds of age had been left "lagging so far behind".

Chelsea Pensioner Sgt Stan Pepper at the Chelsea Flower Show 2006
Suggestions include stopping older people being refused credit cards

She said older people were discriminated against in the NHS and the insurance industry, and she hoped the Green Paper offered a chance to close "gaping holes" in age discrimination law.

Proposals also include making private clubs give women equal rights - although it would not ban clubs aimed exclusively at men or women, or a particular social group.

Only half of the 2,500 working men's clubs give women full membership rights while some golf clubs stop women playing at the weekend or restrict access to the club house.

'Second class'

The paper says clubs should not be able to treat some people as "second-class members" and it proposes to extend the rights disabled people have as guests in private clubs to race and sexual orientation.

But Trevor Phillips, who will chair the new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights (CEHR), said: "This should be an opportunity to do something more ambitious than simply ensuring that women get a place at the bar in the local golf club."

Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society women's rights group, said: "This might be good news for women who play golf, but for the millions more who just want to be paid equally it's a distraction.

Women should be able to feed their babies, however they want, wherever they want
Kate Owen, UK

"At the current rate of change, it's going to take 140 years until women are paid equally - and the government has missed a huge opportunity to speed that up. This is tinkering at the edges."

Other proposals include giving women the legal right to breastfeed their babies in public, and some protection for transsexuals - although it also suggests a "provision allowing organised religion to treat people differently on the grounds of gender reassignment".

While the Commission for Racial Equality, soon to be replaced by the CEHR, welcomed the paper, it said it still "needs improvement" and should put racial equality at the heart of the bill.

'Piecemeal' laws

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly said laws had been introduced over 40 years "in a piecemeal fashion" and the paper aimed to make them "as clear and effective as possible".

A spokeswoman for her department called on critics to recognise that the Single Equality Bill would unite "nine pieces of major legislation and around 100 pieces of ancillary legislation," making the law clearer and more effective.

"Whilst we appreciate that it is always the job of lobby groups to call on the government to go further, it is important people recognise the scale of the reforms we are putting forward today," she said.

Susan Anderson, of the Confederation of British Industry, said the underlying causes of inequality had to be tackled as well, but welcomed the government's decision not to "completely overhaul" discrimination regulation.

"This would have created an industry for lawyers, and distracted employers from the real task of raising equality and diversity in ways that benefit them and their employees," she added.

How the bill could help mothers

'Right to breastfeed' law planned
12 Jun 07 |  UK Politics
Where are women still not allowed?
03 Apr 07 |  Magazine

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