To ‘discriminate against someone’ means to treat them differently due to their personal characteristics.
People might find themselves subject to discrimination for several reasons, e.g., because of their race, gender, religion, or health.
In terms of the latter point, health, an example can be seen in someone with a disability being denied employment, despite them being perfectly qualified to do the job. This example can be identified as being ‘unfair discrimination.’
As well as ‘unfair discrimination’ which occurs when people are denied equal opportunities because of personal characteristics, there is also something called ‘unlawful discrimination.’ Unlawful discrimination occurs when someone is discriminated against on the grounds of ‘protected characteristics’, such as race and gender.
Another form of discrimination is ‘direct discrimination.’ This refers to people who are intentionally treated less favourably than others, simply due to them possessing a certain characteristic, e.g., being refused service in a restaurant due to being disabled. In contrast, ‘indirect discrimination’ refers to the unintentional discrimination that might occur because of a particular working condition, rule, or recruitment/promotion process putting a certain group of people at a disadvantage. For example, holding staff meetings at 4pm every evening might exclude staff with childcare responsibilities who can’t attend as they need to pick their children up from school, or failing to employ a representative number of black police officers might exclude ethnic minorities from applying to join the police force. These examples, while forms of indirect discrimination, are also an example of another type of discrimination; ‘institutional discrimination.’ A way in which organisations can strive to overcome underrepresentation and the subsequent feelings of discrimination that certain groups experience as a result, is to drive forward ‘positive action.’ In practice, this might look like an employer who is faced with two or more candidates of equal merit choosing the candidate who is from a disproportionately under-represented group (e.g., if a black man and a white man both apply to be police officers and both are short-listed, the black man should be considered since this would help to remove the problem of this group being under-represented in the police force.)
‘Discrimination by association’, a final type of discrimination that I will discuss today, occurs when someone is discriminated against, not because of their own personal qualities being viewed as ‘unfavourable’, but because they are linked to someone else with qualities that are viewed in such a way. For example, a man whose best friend is gay might be perceived as being gay themselves, simply due tot their association with them.
As I have identified above, there are various ways in which people can be discriminated against, all of which have no place in our society. It is important to remember, however, that someone can be discriminated against in multiple ways, with this being referred to as ‘multiple discrimination.’ An example of when multiple discrimination might occur could be seen in someone who is black and gay. They are at risk of being discriminated against not just for their race, but for their sexuality too.
I am lucky in that I have never felt discriminated against personally, however I have witnessed people who have faced such unjustness first-hand.
The gender pay gap- its something we have all seen reported. It is a form of direct discrimination based on gender, with women having been paid less than men for centuries, despite them, quite often, doing the same job for the same hours at the same level as their male counterparts.
People are also discriminated against due to having a disability. This is often reflected via indirect discrimination. For example, a restaurant with no disabled toilet or ramps to access the building might turn away disabled customers. They are not doing this to intentionally segregate them, but by failing to be inclusive of their needs, disabled customers feel discriminated against as a result.
It has also been widely reported that significantly more black people are subjected to ‘stop and search’ in comparison to white people. This can be seen as discrimination against race.
Another reason why people are all too often discriminated against is due to their sexuality. Homophobia is a very real problem, with homosexual people suffering from unfair judgement.
The above points are all modern-day examples, however there are loads of historical examples of discriminatory practice that can be observed too, the most widely recognised example being the immense discrimination of black people who were used as slaves in Britain. This is an example of racial discrimination, however discrimination because of religion is also cemented in history, as seen in the tragic events of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.
Gender is another historical form of discrimination, with women unable to vote in elections until the 1920s.
Whatever the reason for someone to be discriminated against, the fact is that discrimination, of any type, can have a dramatic effect on people. It can lead to feelings of worthlessness arising in people, as well as causing people to feel angry and frustrated. This can in turn lead to people having poor self-esteem, with their mental, and, in some cases, their physical health suffering too.
There are certain laws and regulations set out by UK authorities designed to protect the rights of all citizens, whilst also ensuring that they are not being discriminated against. This legislation is particularly important for counsellors to be aware of, as well as their clients who are seeking help.
The two key pieces of legislation that exist to prevent discrimination are the Human Rights Act (1998), and the Equality Act (2010.) These help to ensure that core British values, such as individual liberty/free will, are upheld.
The Human Rights Act (1998) prevents discrimination by ensuring that everyone is treated equally, translating to everyone being given the same rights. The rights that everyone is entitled to can be seen in the human rights act, which I will list below.
- The right to life
- The right to not be tortured or treated in a degrading/inhumane way.
- The right to be free from slavery and forced labour.
- The right to liberty and security.
- The right to a fair trial.
- The right to freedom from punishment for something that wasn’t a crime when it was committed.
- The right to privacy, for respect and for family life.
- The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
- The right to freedom of expression.
- The right to freedom of assembly and association.
- The right to marry and have a family.
- The right not to be discriminated against.
- The right to peaceful enjoyment of your property.
- The right to an education.
- The right to participate in free elections.
- The right not to be subjected to the death penalty.
Whilst it is expected that the above rights are all followed, some are defined as being ‘qualified’ rights, meaning that in some circumstances, the right can be overturned by officials (e.g., the right to freedom of expression might not be allowed in an individual who is promoting racial hatred.)
Another piece of legislation, the Equality Act (2010), similarly helps to prevent the occurrence of discrimination in our society. It encompasses several anti-discrimination laws, applying to anyone who provides a service or anyone who sells goods to members of the public, whether that be for a fee or via a voluntary organisation.
The Equality Act prohibits discrimination based on ‘protected characteristics’, those characteristics being age, gender, race, religion, and sexual orientation. The act also prevents people from being discriminated against on the grounds of them having a disability, being married/ in a civil partnership, being pregnant, or having had their gender reassigned (transgender.) Protection from discrimination also extends to those associated with someone who has any of the protected characteristics highlighted above.
The act exists to ensure that organisations/public bodies are actively eliminating any discriminatory practice whilst promoting equality of opportunity between diverse groups. All organisations are therefore expected to consider how they can promote diversity and eliminate discrimination, particularly in their policy making, recruitment and promotion processes, and in the overall way they deliver their services. Doing so is referred to as ‘equality duty.’