Council pledge to tackle discrimination

HIGHLAND COUNCIL has confirmed its ongoing commitment to advancing equality of opportunity and tackling discrimination by publishing its new plan, A Fairer Highland.
The plan sets out arrangements for gathering information and developing outcomes that affect people on the basis of disability, race, gender reassignment, age, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.
Convener Sandy Park, who is also a member of the Equalities Working Group, said: “The Equality Act 2010 has provided us with a new focus on equalities and this plan outlines how we aim to bring about improvements for our staff and customers. Members of the Equalities Working Group have especially valued the opportunity to meet with representatives of local groups involved in equality and diversity work. This has helped us better understand a number of barriers that some people face when they try to access services or employment, as well as the damaging effect of negative attitudes and exclusion onindiviuals. .
Mr Park said: “We recognise that this plan is very much work in progress. We are grateful to those who have contributed so far. We hope that they, and others, will continue to help the Council with this task.”
The working group of elected members was established in 2011 to:-
  • ensure strong member leadership and a strategic approach to progressing equalities work;
  • scrutinise performance of agreed actions;
  • meet equality requirements; and
  • consider areas for improvements.
During the past year, the group has heard evidence from local representative groups on issues ranging across mental health and stigma; sexual orientation and gender reassignment; religion and belief; and race and ethnicity.
The Council also carried out a survey of attitudes to equality and discrimination with its Citizen’s Panel in 2011 which has provided insights into views in Highland. Some of the key findings included:
  • In Highland 33% felt there was sometimes good reason to be prejudiced against certain groups (in a comparable Scotland survey this was 28%).
  • Those knowing people with certain characteristics are less likely to express discriminatory views. Fewer people in Highland said they knew people from such groups.
The survey also found that some groups were more likely to be subject to negative attitudes in Highland including those from the Black or Asian community, Muslim people, those in a same sex relationship, Gypsies/Travellers and transgender people. However, views on immigration were more positive and people in Highland were less likely to express a view that people from Eastern Europe or minority ethnic groups were taking local jobs.
The focus of the Equality Action Plan over the next year will be to develop and publish more specific equality outcomes which will aim to make real improvements to the life of those affected, or potentially affected, by discrimination and harassment.
By way of background, the Equality Act 2010 reformed and consolidated over 100 different pieces of Scottish, UK and European law, and provides protection from discrimination for people on the grounds of Age, Disability, Gender reassignment, Marriage and Civil Partnership, Pregnancy and Maternity, Race, Religion or Belief, Sex, and Sexual orientation. The Act also introduces a new extended equality duty on the public sector replacing previous separate duties covering race, disability and gender only.
Despite over 30 year of equality legislation and some progress, certain groups of people still face significant levels of inequality, discrimination and harassment, and do not enjoy the same life opportunities as everybody else. For example, in the UK and Scotland, we know that:
  • In 2007 people aged 65+ out-numbered children for the first time.
  • More than 6 out of 10 lesbian and gay schoolchildren experience homophobic bullying.
  • Only 50% of disabled people of working age are in work compared with 80% of non-disabled people.
  • Only 59% of ethnic minorities are employed, compared with 73% of the general population.
  • Only 29% of Muslim women are economically active.
  • 62% of transgender people experienced harassment in public places
  • Gypsies’ / Travellers’ life expectancy is 10 years below the national average.
  • Only a third of senior managers in the Scottish civil service are women
  • In Scotland women are paid 12% less than men in full time work
One in three Scots believe Eastern Europeans are taking "Scots" jobs