On 19 July 2021, the UK government took the decision to move England into step 4 of the COVID-19 Roadmap. This resulted in the ending of most legal restrictions, including those relating to social distancing and social contact; all remaining businesses were allowed to reopen. Under the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) as set out in s149 Equality Act 2010, Ministers are required to assess the impact of changes to people’s protected characteristics, with particular emphasis on meeting the duties set out in the Act.
On 13 July 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care issued The Health Transparency Data – Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps etc.) (England) (Revocation and Amendment) Regulations 2021: equality analysis.. These documents record the equality analysis undertaken for the decision to move England into step 4 through the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps etc.) (England) (Revocation and Amendment) Regulations 2021.
The requirements under the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), s149 Equality Act 2010 are for Minister to have regard to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation
- advance equality of opportunity between different groups
- foster good relations between different groups
They must also consider the impact of policy decisions on protected characteristics, with particular emphasis on meeting the duties set out above. Extracts from this recent assessment in relation to Marriage and Civil Partnership, and to Religion or belief are reproduced below [emphasis added]*.
Marriage and Civil Partnership
“The removal of the remaining restrictions on significant life events will have a positive impact on those participating in and witnessing these events. So too will the removal of the requirement – for all participants – to have to wear face coverings during wedding ceremonies and at receptions indoors. However, with the increase in potential number of households attending these significant life events and bearing in mind that people often travel to attend them, there is a risk of transmission rates of COVID-19 increasing in these settings, and this is especially risky when considering novel strains.
The increased risk of transmission from this relaxation is likely to have a disproportionate negative impact on disabled people, due to range of complex vulnerabilities associated with disabilities, the elderly, and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. However, this risk is mitigated by the COVID-secure guidance still in place for such settings. Given the continued success of the vaccination programme, we consider the removal of the gathering limits are justified and the economy can be reopened in a careful and safe way.
The further easing of restrictions, particularly the removal of social contact restrictions, is likely though, to have a positive impact on people who might be experiencing domestic abuse in a marriage or civil partnership. According to an ONS Report from November 2020, there has generally been an increase in demand for domestic abuse victim services during the coronavirus pandemic. It is likely that this is due to an increase in the severity of abuse being experienced, and a lack of available coping mechanisms such as the ability to leave the home to escape the abuse or attend counselling. The expiry of the Steps Regulations will benefit individuals experiencing domestic abuse by making it easier for them to seek out support.”
“Allowing a greater number of people to attend significant religious life events will have a positive impact on religious communities, as these can play an important role in religious/belief life. Large religious gatherings, intra-faith events and life events will be able to take place with any number of people. This will have a positive impact on religious groups as well as increasing community cohesion.
The revoking Regulations will remove the limit of the number of people able to attend all significant life events. This will be beneficial to everyone participating in and attending the event. The fact that 76.9% of wedding ceremonies were civil ceremonies in England and Wales in 2017 indicates that this relaxation is likely to benefit a wide range of people with varying beliefs. Permitting life events of any size, however, does carry the risk of increasing infection rates in the community. The government will continue keep the epidemiological under review to protect the health of individuals.
The removal of the limit of the number of people able to attend significant life events will have a positive impact on this protected characteristic. It was considered that given that the face coverings exception for community premises only applies to educational provision by schools/FE providers, this could have a disproportionate negative impact on those with the protected characteristic of religion or belief. It could have had a disproportionate impact on those receiving education in their own faith outside of school time in supplementary religious schools such as yeshivas, madrassahs, and Sunday schools.
Removing the requirement to wearing face coverings will have a positive impact on faith and belief communities. At Step 4, there would be no requirement for face coverings in any setting, hence removing any negative impact caused to children and young people with a religion or belief. This decision will be positive for the religious sector, where several religions hold lessons in their own faith for children within their religion/ community. The removal of face coverings will allow these children to understand and learn about their religion without barriers (i.e. face covering). Furthermore, the wearing of face coverings can be difficult for some members of faith groups as they may have been uncomfortable to wear with a head scarf or may interfere with important articles of faith like facial hair.”
There is little of note in the above bland analysis by the DHSC apart from comments on the possibilities of the risk of increasing infection rates in certain circumstances. However, the section on Religion or Belief sends mixed messages concerning the wearing of face coverings.
We covered the move to Step 4 in a post focussing on Church of England Guidance and a more general summary of COVID-19 churches’ guidance.
* Other areas considered in the analysis are: age, disability, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex, and sexual orientation. Data on gender reassignment, or more broadly, gender identity or trans status [are] not collected in major employment or labour market surveys an so it is not possible to provide analysis on the equalities impacts for transgender staff.