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What is discrimination?

Essentially discrimination is action/s which disadvantages an individual based on one or more factors to include race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief. Age discrimination is coming at the end of this year. There is a raft of legislation which offers people protection from discrimination, whether direct, indirect, victimisation or harassment. Look in the work book for legal definitions. If an employer for example treats everyone equally badly then this is unlikely to be discrimination!

What exactly do you mean when you talk about ‘multiple’ discrimination or equality issues?

In the context of this training, it is important to think about how issues of discrimination may work together. For example a gypsy woman living on a council run site may acquire a mobility problem. If her needs in terms of easy access on or off the site (dropped kerbs for example) are not taken into consideration, she may be experiencing discrimination on the grounds of race and disability.

Another example might be a local charity supporting people with learning disabilities who does not offer nor promote its services in a range of languages. A family who have settled in this area, for whom English is a second language, and who require support for a family member with learning disabilities, may not access services because of language barriers.

Is discrimination always deliberate?

No. It has to be accepted that sometimes ‘the way we always do things’ does not always take into account ‘different needs’ of people. Indirect and Institutional discrimination may be definitions of discrimination that are not intended to deliberately discriminate. It is important to remember that the issue still needs to be sorted.

Why is discrimination so hard to prove?

Firstly most people who are victims of discrimination may not want to accept that they are being treated less favourably simply because of their colour, religion etc. Secondly there is the fear of being labelled a ‘trouble maker’ Many who have had to put up with exclusion and bullying will simply ‘leave’ or ‘withdraw’ from the issue, as challenging can be a painful process. Put all of these into the rural context that exists in Norfolk and Suffolk and think about the impact of that rural isolation on someone being treated less favourably. One barrier may be they simply do not know where to go to even start to talk about their experiences.

What is important is that you open up to the potential that a person’s treatment could be because of their ‘difference’ and think about how best to discuss this. It is important that you familiarise yourself with the tools available to help people ask questions of service providers or employers. There are questionnaires available that can be used to gather evidence. Many organisations now conduct monitoring of the services they provide and their employees, and again this can be requested and used as evidence. This monitoring may include ethnicity, gender age etc of their customers and staff.

What do you mean by challenging discrimination?

The word ‘challenging’ sounds quite confrontational. Interpret it as being prepared to ask questions, and requiring answers!

I am a bit worried about introducing the fact that it could be discrimination, and being seen to lead someone down this route. Is this ethical?

You have to decide at what point you consider whether the issue could be linked to discrimination. Gently identifying the core issue, knowing the legal definitions of discrimination, and encouraging the person to look at all angles is essential. What is important is that you open your mind to it as a possibility. By doing this you are not leading, but simply starting to look at recognising possible discrimination issues.

What does ‘out of time’ mean?

It is important that ‘challenges’ are made promptly to avoid cases becoming time expired and unable to be progressed through the courts. A general rule is 3 months from the last date of discrimination for employment cases and 6 months for service delivery cases. There are always exceptions, and the possibility of extensions…the advice is to deal with cases sooner rather than later.

It’s not my job to take on discrimination cases

Isn’t it? Seriously you do need to be prepared to progress issues identified as having the potential to be discriminatory. You cannot be expected to know everything. You can be expected to know who can help you and the person experiencing the discrimination. Signposting may be a solution, but try and stay in the loop to enhance your knowledge and deal with the problem. Organisations such as the Disability Rights Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission and Commission for Race Equality may take on cases. Try them. Alternatively there are a range of local groups who have special knowledge so use them! Remember the time scales though!

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