Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)
The Public Sector Equality Duty requires public bodies to have 'due regard' to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations.
What is the PSED?
This Public Sector Equality Duty has its origins in the race equality duty, introduced after institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police was found by the Macpherson Report on the murder of the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence. However, the PSED now also covers disability and numerous other discrimination grounds.
Whilst most of the Equality Act 2010 focuses on rectifying particular instances of discrimination after they have occurred, the PSED seeks to prevent them happening in the first place, and indeed to have public authorities positively promote equality. Equality considerations should be built into their decision making processes and activities - known as 'mainstreaming'. This can include doing equality impact assessments.
For example, public bodies should have due regard to the need to remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by disabled people, and to the need to take steps to meet the needs of disabled people. The duty sometimes also applies to private and voluntary sector bodies carrying out public functions, eg a contractor running a prison.
The PSED is both narrower and wider than the other provisions of the Equality Act 2010:
- The PSED is not an absolute duty to promote equality of opportunity etc, but only to have 'due regard' to the need to do so. Other factors may legitimately override that need in a particular case.
- On the other hand, the scope of the PSED is considerably wider than the rest of the Equality Act. For example, the PSED has been used to take legal action against funding cuts in public services.
An individual taking formal legal action under the PSED needs to bring 'judicial review' proceedings, which are more difficult than proceedings under other parts of the Equality Act. The pages on this website about taking disputes to court do not apply to the PSED.
The PSED can also be enforced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
However the PSED can of course be used less formally, such as in making a complaint to or arguing with an authority. The Westminster Government lays stress on citizens, local groups etc holding public bodies to account, using information which authorities are required to publish under the 'specific duties' (below). With regard to 'specific duties', the remit of the Westminster Government is limited to English and non-devolved authorities.
What is outlined above is known as the 'general duty'. The PSED also includes 'specific duties' on many public bodies designed to support the performance of the general duty, for example publishing information about compliance with the PSED. The specific duties are different for England (and non-devolved bodies), Wales and Scotland.