CAJ works to advance equality in Northern Ireland.
What we focus on
Equality runs like a golden thread through human rights theory and practice. The essence of human rights is that they are universal and apply to us all. Equality is not just about tackling prejudice and discrimination, but also about taking positive action to remove obstacles hindering groups of people from being able to reach their full potential and from participating fully in our society. Equality is a central pillar of a fair and humane society. Since Northern Ireland is still a divided society in many ways, equality remains a key focus for CAJ. We take a collaborative approach to tackling equality, working with other civil society groups.
Along with UNISON, CAJ co-convenes the Equality Coalition, a civil society alliance of more than 100 NGOs and trade unions. We support the Equality Coalition as a collaborative arena to take forward ideas and actions to advance equality.
Enforcing the Equality Duty
Under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, public authorities in NI have a statutory duty to ensure they promote equality of opportunity and good relations as they carry out their work. Section 75 requires all designated public authorities to produce an Equality Scheme and to screen their policy for differential (negative) impacts across nine different categories. When one a differential impact is identified through screening, the policy is then meant to be subjected to a full equality impact assessment (EQIA) and changes made to the policy as appropriate. This process should never be reduced to a box-ticking exercise.
CAJ has worked on the enforcement of the equality duty since its inception in 1998, encouraging and, where necessary, obliging public authorities to carry out this duty effectively, including through taking complaints. While examples of good practice exist, Section 75 is regularly flouted or applied ineffectively across key policy areas. For more information about our concerns around how Section 75 is implemented, see Equal to the Task and our narrative report on the work of the Equality Duty Enforcement Project. We have also produced an FAQ about how to make complaint under Section 75 – which will be added here shortly!
Section 75 requires that public authorities have ‘due regard’ for the need to promote equality of opportunity between:
- Persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status, or sexual orientation;
- Men and women generally;
- Persons with a disability and persons without;
- Persons with dependants and persons without.
CAJ believes that government and public bodies should allocate funding and resources – such as housing and social security – based on objective social need, measured by objective criteria drawn from transparent data. By objective need, we simply mean that resources should go where they are needed most, regardless of secondary factors. This is different from simply dividing up resources equally, pound for pound, between different groups, regardless of their level of need. CAJ established this principle in relation to the legally required anti-poverty strategy through litigation in 2015. We continue to advocate for it to be adopted as a general guiding principal whenever public resources are allocated.