Stone King partner Peter Woodhouse assesses employment legislation impact on the Church of England’s From Lament to Action report on tackling racism

The recently published Archbishops’ Anti-Racism Task Force report From Lament to Action calls for 47 actions to tackle racism in the Church of England.

Stone King partner Peter Woodhouse has taken a look at the potential impact of employment legislation on the report.

Of the report’s 47 calls to action, Peter says,

“One of the most eye-catching actions is:

“Shortlists for Senior Clergy Appointments (Archdeacon, Residentiary Canon, Dean, Bishops) to include at least one appointable UKME [UK minority ethnic] / GMH [global majority heritage] candidate by September 2021”

“It is not entirely clear that the Church will be taking this route, but if it does it may only take ‘positive action’ to the extent prescribed by the Equality Act 2010, under which scope is very limited indeed.”

Citing the two possible routes presented by the act, Peter notes,

“Firstly, there is the general option to take proportionate measure to reduce any disadvantage or meet any need suffered by particular groups. In some ways this is similar to the principle of making reasonable adjustments for those with a disability.

“A further option applies in recruitment and promotion where participation in an activity by persons who share a protected characteristic is disproportionately low.  At the time of writing, the report highlighted that in March 2021 there were only five UKME / GMH bishops from a total of 111, and so it seems clear that this precondition would be satisfied.

Peter goes on to note,

“However, this rule only permits an employer to use a protected characteristic (e.g. race) as a basis for a recruitment decision when the candidates are equally meritorious - in other words as a “tie-breaker”, and then only when the measure is proportionate to the problem it is designed to solve.

“If the proposal meant that a candidate could be excluded at the shortlisting stage without an assessment of their merits, it is difficult to see how it could be permitted. It is for this reason that many employers promote diversity, equality and inclusion through enlarging and increasing opportunities for under-represented groups rather than actively preventing others from accessing the selection pools.”

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