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Let's talk about Equality Impact Assessments

Teresa Norman and Adina Maglan
November 1, 2023

This article sets out:

  • The basics of EIAs
  • Innovations from some public sector bodies
  • The thinking of the Social Equity Centre on how EIAs should be updated to reflect how much British society has changed since the Equality Act 2010

The basics of EIAs

EIAs are an essential part of policy making in public services. They are the best way of fulfilling the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) set out in the Equality Act 2010. The duty requires all public bodies to have due regard to the need to:

  • Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act
  • Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.
  • Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not.

This means in practice that when a new policy is being developed, its impact on the 9 protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage or civil partnership(in employment only)
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race, Religion or belief
  • Sex (gender)
  • Sexual orientation

must be considered.

A good EIA involves desk research and consultations with the affected service users – resulting in a report with recommendations. It is vital that the consultation is conducted before the decision is made and is a part of the development process.  

A well conducted EIA can make officials and elected representatives aware of the consequences of a decision on a protected or vulnerable group. If it is likely to be negative, policy makers can take action to mitigate the impact or, in very rare circumstances, reverse the policy. Conducting a thorough EIA improves the policy and its implementation. It can, for instance, lead to better communication of a benefit, a realisation that accessibility needs to be considered in more depth or that one group depends heavily on a service and if it is going to change, then the public sector body needs to work out how it will recreate the same benefit in a different way.  One example is changes in social housing –many people will have built valuable networks where they live and moving people to different places will harm those networks.

Secondly, EIAs are important learning tools. Understanding the impact of one policy can lead to better policy elsewhere. For instance, the changes to immigration status due to Brexit for all EEA nationals and their family members in the UK was the first fully digital immigration status rolled out nationally.  Implementing a policy in this way had a significant impact on those who lacked the digital skills or means to apply and secure their rights in the UK. Going fully digital created barriers to access because of vulnerability due to homelessness, illness or domestic abuse, lack of language skills or limited literacy, a lack of appropriate identity documents, and the prohibitive costs of obtaining them. 4 years after its implementation it continues to be challenging for vulnerable, eligible applicants. There are important lessons to be learned here for any public body intending to make a service completely digital.

EIAs need to be regularly updated as circumstances change so that any new adverse impacts can be identified and ideally, actioned to mitigate them. The update should include learning from what has gone well and what has gone badly in the implementation of other policies.

Innovations from public sector bodies

It has been fantastic to discover innovations in EIAs by different councils and the devolved administrations. Scotland brings together Human Rights requirements with equality considerations. One of their asks is that EIAs are evidence-based and published accessibly. We also know that several councils (such as Walsall Council, Aberdeen City Council, Bristol City Council, Southwark Council) and the devolved administrations have implemented Section 1 of the Equality Act, meaning that they consider socio-economic disadvantage factors in EIAs.

Approximately 50 councils have made being a care leaver - defined in the Children(Leaving Care) Act 2000 as someone who has been in the care of the Local Authority for a period of 13 weeks or more spanning their 16th birthday - a protected characteristic.

As care leavers and the socio-economically disadvantaged are the people who depend the most on services, this is critical.

The views of the Social Equity Centre

The groups that are considered in EIAs are the ones that have visibility to policy makers. The consultation process gives different protected groups a voice and the ability to influence decisions, resulting in better policy. EIAs are a vital part of an inclusive society. We believe that the private sector could learn much from the public sector on how it considers equality issues in decision making.

Digital skills, socio-economic status, literacy levels, care responsibilities, and language skills represent barriers beyond the control of the individual or the community but are impacted by policy decisions. The National Literacy Trusts notes that ‘16.4% of adults in England, or 7.1 million people, can be described as having 'very poor literacy skills'. There is no evidence to shed light on how these groups intersect with nationality, age groups, health and disability or any other factors. Policy makers need to develop EIAs that explicitly take these barriers into account.  It is always better to consult than make assumptions about the needs of different people.

Who counts as an ethnic minority needs rethinking. Eastern European citizens should be explicitly taken into account. Following Brexit, there were 5.6 million European applicants to the EU Settlement Scheme. The UK is also now home to over 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, also largely categorised as White Eastern Europeans. In a podcast with TogetherintheUK, Adina Maglan describes how being Eastern European can impact one’s identity: ‘we are BAME but we are not, we are white but we are not, we are not visible’. The 2019 Government's consultation on the Ethnicity Pay Reporting specifically excluded White ethnic minorities in their entirety – ‘the term ‘people from ethnic minorities' refers to all ethnic minority groups excluding people from white ethnic minorities’ – an unhelpfully simplistic, binary approach and an exclusion questioned by trade unions and other bodies.

There is constant coverage of refugees and asylum seekers in the news. In 2010, there were 17,916 refugees recorded. No wonder such small numbers were not considered in the Equality Act 2010. In November 2022, reports showed that there were 231,597 refugees, 127,421 pending asylum cases and 5,483 stateless people in the UK. This is only half a percent of the population but given the responsibility of the public bodies to support settlement and the trauma that so many of these people have faced together with the prejudice and discrimination they can be subject to, we argue that this group should be explicitly considered in the provision of public services.


Public sector bodies can engage the whole of the 2023 UK community through adding the following to the development of their EIAs:

  • Literacy
  • Digital exclusion
  • Socio-economical disadvantages
  • Care responsibilities
  • Care leavers
  • Eastern Europeans (and largely any White Other identities)
  • Refugees and asylum seekers.


We have learnt so much over the years from those public sector bodies who take EIAs seriously. They amend policies based on excellent equality analysis and therefore deliver for everyone. Now, following the publication of the latest census is the time to take this work forward. Policy can only be improved through consultation with those groups affected by it. It’s time to update our thinking so that policy making reflects the communities of 2023.


The Social Equity Centre can help. We can support your organisation in consulting with all protected groups as well as the new communities in the UK and create excellent research reports for you.

To discuss your equalities impact assessment needs, do email us at

Reference this article: Norman T., Maglan A. (2023), Social Equity Centre CIC: Let’s talk about Equality Impact Assessments.

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