The Equality Act came into force in 2010 to protect everyone, including children and young people, from discrimination and to advance equality and opportunity for all. It protects people against discrimination, harassment and victimisation in relation to housing, education, the provision of services, work and other areas of public life. It prohibits discrimination based on the following characteristics, usually referred to as ‘protected characteristics’:

  • Age (but under 18s are only protected against age discrimination in relation to work)
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

The Equality Act protects children and young people in different areas of their lives, for example when working or applying for a job, when using public or private services (eg transport, housing, membership clubs), and in education and training.  However, there are differences in the levels of protection that the Act gives to children and young people.  Read our guide to the Equality Act.

The public sector equality duty in Section 149 of the Equality Act requires public bodies, including local authorities, schools and hospitals, to take active steps to eliminate discrimination and to take positive actions to promote equality. 

Advancing equality of opportunity includes taking measures to:

  • Remove or minimise disadvantage associated with a protected characteristic
  • Taking steps to meet the needs of individuals who share a protected characteristic (where these are different to others)
  • Encouraging people who share a protected characteristic to participate in public life or other activities where the participation by that group is disproportionately low