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Social Mobility Commission reports on equal opportunities within the Civil Service - should class be recognised as a protected characteristic?

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Navigating the Labyrinth’, a report published by the Social Mobility Commission on 20 May 2021 has found that individuals working for the Civil Service who come from what are termed ‘disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds’ are significantly underrepresented within the sector.

The report’s results were based on an analysis of 300,000 civil servants and found that 72% of people in the most senior positions in the sector came from more advantaged backgrounds, whilst just 18% of senior officials came from ‘disadvantaged backgrounds’.

Notably, the report raises the question of whether a person’s class should be recognised as a protected characteristic within the Equality Act 2010.

At the moment, a person can potentially raise a claim for discrimination if they are treated unfairly by virtue of any of the following protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Class, in itself, is not a recognised protected characteristic under the act. However, if it were to be added to the list, it is suggested that this would provide protection to people from ‘disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds’ from being treated differently and help to ensure equal opportunities for people from all backgrounds in employment. However exactly how the term disadvantaged backgrounds could be defined would be open for debate.

If you require advice regarding a claim for discrimination, an employment dispute, or if you require HR assistance and would like more information, you can speak to a member of our team 01616 966 229.

By Eleanor Adshead, employment law and discrimination team

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