Equality Act 2010

Overview for social care

This introduction to equality has been developed to assist in promoting dignity in social care.

Equalities legislation replaced anti-discrimination legislation. This area of law is constantly evolving as society recognises new areas of inequality, and over the years a number of laws have been passed in response to changing public perceptions and the development of human rights law.

Anti-discriminatory practice is fundamental to the ethical basis of care provision and critical to the protection of people's dignity. The Equality Act protects those receiving care and the workers that provide it from being treated unfairly because of any characteristics that are protected under the legislation. The ‘protected characteristics’ are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race – this includes ethnic or national origins, colour or nationality
  • religion or belief – this includes lack of belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably than someone else in similar circumstances on the grounds of a protected characteristic. Indirect discrimination occurs when a condition or requirement is applied equally to everyone, but some are unable to comply because of a protected characteristic. This would be unlawful unless the condition or requirement is objectively justifiable.

The Equality Act replaces previous anti-discrimination legislation and regulations.

Regulations that prohibit discrimination in employment:

  • Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003
  • Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003
  • Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 – prohibit discrimination in employment on grounds of age for those of working age, it is irrelevant whether the discrimination is because you are young or old.

Age discrimination

People in employment are already protected against age discrimination. A ban on age discrimination in the provision of services and public functions for adults is included in the Equalities Act and was implemented from October 2012.

There are no specific exceptions to the ban on age discrimination for health or social care services. This means that any age-based practices by the NHS and social care organisations would need to be objectively justified, if challenged.

Home Office guidance


Carers provide care for a relative, friend or neighbour in need of support on an unpaid basis. The law protects carers from discrimination through association with the person they care for. Carers are protected from discrimination at work. They have the right to request flexible working so that they can manage their caring responsibilities. They have the right to time off in emergencies or to deal with unforeseen matters; however, there is no right to be paid for this time. Carers are also protected when they receive goods, services and facilities. It is unlawful for those providing services, such as shops or transport, to treat someone less favourably because of their association with a person with a ‘protected characteristic’.

Rights for carers are set out in the Care Act. For more information, please see the resource list below.


Public sector equality duty

The Equality Act places an equality duty on public bodies; it came into force on 5 April 2011. The equality duty intends to ensure that public bodies are proactive in eliminating unlawful discrimination, advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations. They must consider equality issues in everything they do with regard to the protected characteristics.

This means the local authority has a duty to consider the diverse needs of the individuals they serve, minimising disadvantage and ensuring the inclusion of under-represented groups. It must ensure that those organisations carrying out duties on its behalf also comply with this duty. Service providers must comply with equalities law and the commissioning authority must ensure providers are able to meet the requirements of the law.