Duties of IMHA services under the Equality Act 2010
As a service with a public function, IMHA is subject to a general duty under the Equality Act, 2010. This includes the duty to ‘advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.’ (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010b) The characteristics protected by the Act are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. It is clear that the groups of service users which make low or no use of IMHA share some of these protected characteristics.
Other provisions of particular relevance to IMHA providers are the general duty ‘to take steps to meet different needs’ (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010b) and the specific duty to publish information showing how they have met this. This information is also known as ‘equality data’. To be able to publish this information, an IMHA service must first specify the equality objectives that it wants to achieve. It is also required to keep records of all relevant data to enable the monitoring of its progress in achieving those goals.
In addition to reinforcing these statutory obligations it is important to emphasise the need for an underlying equality-promoting awareness and philosophy behind IMHA. Providers should question their approach to all the different groups they serve and commit to securing a fair and equal distribution of their service. The Equality Act can be used to kick-start and advance this goal. IMHA providers can apply some of the Act’s provisions directly to achieve changes in service delivery. These include the recognition that:
- ‘bodies subject to the duty should also be aware of the diversity of experience within any one group of people’
- ‘equality does not mean always treating everybody the same way’ and
- ’in some circumstances compliance with the general equality duty may involve treating some persons more favorably than others’ (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010b).
An equitable IMHA service must provide reasonable accommodation, as defined in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities (ratified by the UK in 2009). Like any other public service, it is obliged to make ‘necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments... to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.’(United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, Article 2)