Below is a short description of each of the protected characteristics which form part of the Equality Act 2010.
- The Equality Act is a law which pulls together previously separate equality laws under one heading. It also makes previous laws stronger than before.
- It covers people in England, Scotland and Wales, including visitors.
- It became law in spring 2010, however to have the desired effect for which it was created for will take longer.
It tells public bodies such as St Mary's University that it has duties to do two things:
- Some public bodies will have to think about how they can help to stop people doing less well than other people because of their family background or where they were born. * Family background or where a person is born still affects their life. For example, a child from a rich family often does better at school than a child from a poor family, even if the poorer child is cleverer. This is sometimes called socio-economic inequality.
- All public bodies must think about treating people from different groups fairly and equally.
In relation to the protected characteristic of age:
- a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a person of a particular age group;
- a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons of the same age group.
View full Age information
The Act defines age by reference to a person’s age group and when it refers to people who share the protected characteristic of age, it means they are in the same age group. An age group can:
- mean people of the same age or a range of ages
- be wide such as ‘people under 50’
- be narrow such as ‘people in their mid-50s’ or people born in a particular year
- be relative, such as ‘older than me’ or ‘older than us’
- be linked to actual or assumed physical appearance which may bear little relation to chronological age such as ‘the grey workforce’.
A person could therefore belong to various age groups: a 19 year old could, for example, belong to groups that include ‘young adults’, ‘teenagers’, ‘under 50s’, ‘under 25s’ or ‘19 year olds’.
A person (P) has a disability if:
- P has a physical or mental impairment, and
- the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on P's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
A reference to a disabled person is a reference to a person who has a disability.
In relation to the protected characteristic of disability-
- (a) a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a person who has a particular disability;
- (b) a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons who have the same disability.
This Act (except Part 12 and section 190) applies in relation to a person who has had a disability as it applies in relation to a person who has the disability; accordingly (except in that Part and that section)-
- (a) a reference (however expressed) to a person who has a disability includes a reference to a person who has had the disability, and
- (b) a reference (however expressed) to a person who does not have a disability includes a reference to a person who has not had the disability.
View full Disability information
A person is a disabled person (someone who has the protected characteristic of disability) if they have a physical and/or mental impairment which has what the law calls ‘a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’.
There is no need for a person to have a medically diagnosed cause for their impairment; what matters is the effect of the impairment not the cause.
In relation to physical impairment:
- Conditions that affect the body such as arthritis, hearing or sight impairment (unless this is correctable by glasses or contact lenses), diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, conditions such as HIV infection, cancer and multiple sclerosis, as well as loss of limbs or the use of limbs are covered.
- HIV infection, cancer and multiple sclerosis are covered from the point of diagnosis.
- Severe disfigurement (such as scarring) is covered even if it has no physical impact on the person with the disfigurement, provided the long-term requirement is met (see below).
- People who are registered as blind or partially sighted, or who are certified as being blind or partially sighted by a consultant ophthalmologist, are automatically treated as disabled under the Act.
- Mental impairment includes conditions such as dyslexia and autism as well as learning disabilities such as Down’s syndrome and mental health conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.
A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person's sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.
A reference to a transsexual person is a reference to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.
View full Gender Re-assignment information
This personal process may include undergoing medical procedures or it may simply include choosing to dress in a different way as part of the personal process of change.
A person will be protected for the following:
- if they make their intention known to someone – it does not matter who this is, whether it is someone at university, home or someone like a doctor:
- once they have proposed to undergo gender reassignment they are protected, even if they take no further steps or they decide to stop later on; they do not have to have reached an irrevocable decision that they will undergo gender reassignment, but as soon as there is a manifestation of this intention they are protected
- start or continue to dress, behave or live (full-time or part-time) according to the gender they identify with as a person
- undergo treatment related to gender reassignment, such as surgery or hormone therapy, or have received gender recognition under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.
It does not matter which of these applies to a person for them to be protected because of the characteristic of gender reassignment. This guidance uses the term ‘transsexual person’ to refer to someone who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.
A person has the protected characteristic of marriage and civil partnership if the person is married or is a civil partner.
In relation to the protected characteristic of marriage and civil partnership
View full Marriage and Civil Partnership information
Marriage is defined as a 'union between a man and a woman'. Same-sex couples can have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'. Civil partners must be treated the same as married couples on a wide range of legal matters. * The Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, which mainly extends to England & Wales only, now enables same sex couples to marry in Registry ceremonies and religious ceremony's (if the religious organisation opts in). From 29 March 2014
Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant or expecting a baby. Maternity refers to the period after the birth, and is linked to maternity leave in the employment context. In the non-work context, protection against maternity discrimination is for 26 weeks after giving birth, and this includes treating a woman unfavourably because she is breastfeeding.
To claim pregnancy or maternity discrimination a female student must show that she has been treated unfavourably because of her pregnancy or maternity and does not have to compare her treatment to the treatment of someone who was not pregnant or a new mother.
It is not direct discrimination against a male student to offer a female student special treatment in connection with her pregnancy or childbirth
- ethnic or national origins.
View full Race information
Racial groups can comprise two or more racial groups such as ‘British Asians’
- Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes a reference to a lack of religion.
- Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.
- In relation to the protected characteristic of religion or belief
View full Religion or Belief information
Religion has the meaning usually given to it but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (e.g. Atheism). Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.
A religion need not be mainstream or well known to gain protection as a religion. It must, though, be identifiable and have a clear structure and belief system. Denominations or sects within religions may be considered a religion. Cults and new religious movements may also be considered religions or beliefs.
Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and includes a lack of belief. ‘Religious belief’ goes beyond beliefs about and adherence to a religion or its central articles of faith and may vary from person to person within the same religion. A belief which is not a religious belief may be a philosophical belief, such as humanism or atheism.
A belief need not include faith or worship of a god or gods, but must affect how a person lives their life or perceives the world.
In relation to the protected characteristic of sex:
- a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a man or to a woman;
- a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons of the same sex
View full Sex information