When the plans for extensive public sector cuts were first announced by the UK Government in 2010 it was the ”soft” areas like training and equalities that bore the brunt of the initial cuts.
Unfortunately when organisations stop investing in these soft areas for too long people start to make mistakes that can cost more than the saving that resulted from making the cuts.
Let me give you two examples from July 2013 of the consequences of the lack of investment in equalities awareness and training:
A local authority started proceedings to evict a trans woman from her house. The tenant had informed them of her change of name and gender and the records were updated but the tenancy agreement was not reissued. Court papers for the eviction were issued in her new name but added “Formally known as” and then her previous male name, the name still on the tenancy agreement.
A Social services team became involved in supporting a vulnerable teenager where one of the step parents is a trans woman. The case report, sent to all parties, referred to the trans woman as “the stepfather” and used male pronouns throughout. This was interpreted by the natal father as supporting his transphobic language and behaviour and information in the report was then used in a derogatory manner when shown to other friends and family.
These may seem innocent enough mistakes but - Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 makes it a criminal offense to disclose information about a person’s change of gender without their consent.
Now whilst it is only a criminal offense if the trans person has a gender recognition certificate, there is no requirement for them to disclose that information, so no way for anyone to know. That means that from a good practice point of view you have to assume that all people who appear as if they may be trans have a gender recognition certificate.
Both of these incidents breach the Equality Act 2010; both have caused considerable distress to both staff and service users; both were the result of staff not receiving appropriate equalities training. These errors cannot be undone. The documents were both released to members of the public and by the time the mistakes were noticed the damage had already been done.
One of these incidents may lead to a criminal prosecution.
One has resulted in disciplinary action against an officer.
Incidents like these often result in extensive investigations involving highly paid officers in long meetings, investigations, reports and expensive legal costs. The real cost of a single equalities complaint can easily exceed a reasonable budget for equalities training.
Changing the law and changing attitudes are two very different challenges but remember that “ignorance of the law is no excuse”. The fact that staff had not received adequate training will not prevent them from being liable personally to a criminal prosecution – but that may result in them taking their own action against the employer.
Many of us are still celebrating the fact that The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 received royal assent in July, but the debate over than legislation really highlighted the homophobic and transphobic attitudes that still exist in the community and even amongst MPs and Peers. We have had equal pay and sex discrimination legislation for 40 years and are still a long way from equality. In fact there has been a disturbing increase in reports of sexual harassment just this last year.
In the past there were not that many transgender people accessing services but that is a big part of the problem. Because front line staff and managers do not have much contact with trans people they are often not sure how work with them and therefore the risk of mistakes is high. More importantly, because of the huge changes in law, more trans people are now finding the courage to transition so the chances of contact are increasing
Government research quoted in the 2011 Transgender Action Plan shows:
- Nearly half of transgender employees experience discrimination or harassment in the workplace
- 88% of respondents said that ignorance of transgender issues was the biggest challenge they faced in employment
- Transitioning at work was highlighted as one of the most significant triggers for discrimination
- More than half of respondents said they suffered discrimination in accessing public services because of their transgender status
- Between 2009 and 2010 transgender related hate crime increased by 14%