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Our approach to equality

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The council is committed to ensuring people in Sunderland are able to fulfil their potential and be the best they can be. We value diversity and support equality and inclusion.  We understand that an inclusive and equitable approach is fundamental to achieving our City Plan vision to "create a connected, international city with opportunities for all. These pages explain how we are meeting the Public Sector Equality Duty, introduced by the Equality Act 2010. This includes information on the arrangements we have in place to ensure the nine protected characteristics defined by the Equality Act 2010 are considered in all that we do. The protected characteristics are:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and/or civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

We also understand the importance of considering the needs of other groups that experience disadvantage and so we have committed to considering the socio-economic impacts of our activity. This may include consideration of inequalities in occupation, education, place of residence, health, social class, housing and more. Following the Covid-19 pandemic it is more apparent than ever that poverty and deprivation impacts on outcomes; we now need to understand more about the relationship between poverty and the protected characteristics listed above.

Our approach to equality is linked to our approach to tackling health inequalities. We know that individual and socio-economic circumstances influence many other outcomes, including health and health inequalities. Therefore, the activity we need to undertake to improve health in our city is tied to the activity needed to improve equity more generally. 

Responsibility for equality

There is a joint responsibility for delivering equality, diversity and inclusion across the council, key responsibilities include:

  • Cabinet Secretary - portfolio responsibility for equality.
  • Portfolio Holder for Healthy City - political leadership in relation to health and life chances, including narrowing the health inequalities gap.
  • Portfolio Holder for Children, Learning and Skills - political leadership to ensure that children and young people achieve the best outcomes, including leadership on the council's work to tackle child poverty.
  • Director of Smart Cities and Enabling Services - lead officer responsibility for equality and socio-economic considerations. Enabling Services also has an Assistant Director for People Management leading on workforce equality and employee engagement, Assistant Director of Law and Governance advising on our approach and additional staff leading policy and strategy.
  • Executive Director of Health, Housing and Communities - lead officer responsibility for our approach to reducing health inequalities in the city and also for promoting Integrated Impact Assessment across the organisation.

In addition, decision making bodies such as Cabinet and Chief Officers Group have a collective responsibility to pay due regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and socio-economic and health considerations in the course of their work. Our approach to Integrated Impact Assessment supports this.

Although the council has specific responsibilities in relation to equality, we also recognise that we can have a greater impact by working in partnership with other key organisations in the city.  The ambitions set out in the City Plan to create a dynamic, healthy and vibrant smart city are overseen by the partnership City Board. All three areas of work interact with the Health and Wellbeing Board delivery boards as appropriate (Starting, Living and Ageing Well), providing assurance to the Health and Wellbeing Board, then in turn the City Board, that the social determinants of health are being addressed. Equity is central to this approach.

Embedding diversity, inclusion and equality

Integrated Impact Assessment

Integrated Impact Assessment (IIA) is way of assessing predicted impacts of council activity, including our policies, strategies, service delivery, projects, commissioning and decommissioning decisions. 

The IIA tool enables us to give due regard to the impacts of activity on:

  1. Equality and Human Rights, including ensuring the council meets the three aims of the Public Sector Equality Duty
  2. Socio-economic and digital inequalities
  3. Population health and health inequalities
  4. Low carbon and sustainability
  5. Community wealth building, including crime and disorder.

This is important because:

  • Authorities that fail to assess their equality impacts risk making poor and unfair decisions which may discriminate against particular groups and worsen inequality. If the impact of the decision on different groups is not considered and documented the decision may be open to legal challenge and deemed to not be compliant with the Public Sector Equality Duty.
  • Activity that reduces inequalities and contributes to improved outcomes has the potential to reduce financial burdens on the public sector in the longer term.
  • Consideration of equality issues must influence our decisions, including how we act as employers; how we develop, evaluate and review policy; how we design, deliver and evaluate services, and how we commission and procure from others.

Completed IIA templates are published alongside Cabinet reports on our Committee Management System (CMIS).

Customer Service

One of the overarching customer service principles is accessibility, acknowledging that there must be a range of ways to access the council to allow customer choice.

  • Customer Service Centres have been designed in accordance with disability standards and guidelines and have a range of accessible features as standard. The Customer Service Centre in City Hall includes a 'changing place' toilet. The appointment system enables customers to identify specific needs to ensure the service is responsive and accessible.
  • Telephone services have been shaped by user research and input from the Deaf Society. Short Message Service (SMS), email and webchat is used to facilitate access for Deaf or hearing impaired customers and BT Type Talk can be used if needed.

The Complaints and Customer Feedback Service monitor trends in customer views gained from feedback, including equality issues. It works with other services to ensure continuous learning from both compliments and complaints is embedded within service delivery arrangements.

Data and intelligence

It is important that we understand the diversity of our city and workforce and the different experiences of a range people are so that we can fully consider the impact of what we and how to remove inequalities. Publishing data and intelligence in relation to the protected characteristics of our employees is also important to ensure we comply with the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) Regulations. Therefore, we publish information on our employees in our Corporate Workforce Diversity Report and in our Pay Gap Report.

Information about our residents is presented in our equality profiles, data and insight tools, and in our Joint Strategic Needs Assessment.

Resident and community views

Resident and community views also form part of this data and intelligence and are important to good equality analysis. A residents' survey is undertaken on an annual basis which invites a sample of residents across the city to share their views on living in the city. Data were weighted back to the known population profile of the area to counteract non-response bias. Data are weighted by age within gender bands and ethnicity. A range of engagement is undertaken as part of the Let's Talk Sunderland and links with the voluntary and community sector are in place via the Sunderland Voluntary Sector Alliance.   In addition, we link with the city's equality forums to ensure we get the views of representatives of a range of minority communities. The Sunderland Partnership supports or works with the following forums:

  • BME network,
  • Disability Independent Advisory Group (DIAG),
  • Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Forum,
  • Refugee and asylum multi-agency forum,
  • Sunderland armed forces partnership,
  • Sunderland Interfaith Forum and
  • Veteran's forum

Together for Children supports the Children and Young People's Advisory Group and engages with a range of children and young people. 

Finally, when we are carrying out more general consultation, we ask a range of questions about the person completing the consultation where possible. This helps us to understand whether we have a wide range of people completing the consultations and whether different groups have different views or experiences.

Procurement and commissioning

Equality is an important part of procurement and commissioning - the way we buy goods, works and services.  We ensure proportionate equality considerations are part of the process of planning and procuring services to use this as an extra way to advance equality and think about the wider social benefits that can be achieved through the way we spend money.

Accessible communications

We recognise the importance of ensuring people receive information in way that is accessible and inclusive of different needs. We have staff communication guidelines so that written material is clear both in style and presentation, recognising this can benefit a wide range of people from those with visual impairments to those with lower literacy.  We provide information on the accessibility of our website online, including improvements being made and ways to request information in a different format.  Anyone who needs information in a different or more accessible format can request this by contacting the service providing the information. We will look for ways of meeting the needs of our residents that are cost-free in the first instance but where a different format such as Braille, audio or Easy Read is required, or if translation or interpretation is needed (including British Sign Language), the service will meet the cost of providing this.  The council have a framework of approved suppliers to make sure interpretation, translation and transcription can be accessed quickly. The Procurement Team monitor this framework to understand requirements and whether there are any issues with provision.  An additional policy is in place for people with sensory support needs using adult social care.

Hate incidents

The council encourage anyone experiencing hate incidents - that is incidents motivated by culture, race, religion, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, or disability - to report. This can be done online.  The council work with the police to promote hate crime awareness training across the city so that people understand what constitutes a hate crime and to encourage reporting. A bi-monthly Hate Crime and Tension Monitoring Group provides opportunity for partner organisations in the city to come together to share understanding of patterns of hate incidents and determine action to tackle the underlying causes in a collaborative way. 

Equality through employment

The council is an equal opportunities employer and is determined to ensure that no applicant or employee receives unfavourable treatment or is disadvantaged in any way on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation or pregnancy and maternity.  In the same way that we recognise and value the diversity of people living in the city, we also understand the benefits that having a diverse and inclusive workforce can bring.  We understand that having a workforce with a wide range of skills, backgrounds, experiences and attitudes means we will have an organisation that is more responsive to our community, more adaptable to change and more flexible. A separate Workplace Equality Policy (currently under development) outlines our approach in the following areas of employment:

  • Recruitment and selection
  • Managing employees
  • Pay and benefits
  • Workforce monitoring
  • Employee policies and procedures
  • Reasonable adjustments
  • Employee development
  • Dismissal/redundancy
  • Employee engagement

Equality Objectives

Our equality objective for 2022-26 is:

"Progress equality performance through the Equality Framework for Local Government."

The Framework provides a platform from which to plan improvement activity around the following four modules:

  • Understanding and working with communities
  • Leadership, partnership, and organisational commitment
  • Responsive services and customer care
  • Diverse and engaged workforce

Updates about our progress will be published annually (see next section).

Reporting progress

Progress on our equality objective is published in our Equality progress 2022-23 document.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 bans unfair treatment and promotes equal opportunities in the workplace and wider society. It provides protection on the basis of nine key "protected characteristics": age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED)

The Equality Act 2010 introduced the PSED which came into force in 2011. The PSED consists of a General Duty and Specific Duties.

The General Duty

The General Duty requires public bodies, in the exercise of their functions, to pay 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 includes tackling prejudice and promoting understanding)

The Act explains that having due regard for advancing equality involves:

  • Removing or minimising disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics
  • Taking steps to meet the needs of people from protected groups where these are different from the needs of other people
  • Encouraging people from protected groups to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low.

Having due regard to the need to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to:

  •  tackle prejudice, and
  • promote understanding

Specific Duties

The specific duties require public bodies to be transparent about how they are responding to the Equality Duty. They must publish information to show their compliance with the Equality Duty, at least annually; and set and publish equality objectives at least every four years. Published information must show:

  • Conscious consideration of the three aims of the general duty as part of the decision-making process
  • Information relating to people who are affected by policies and practices (e.g. service users)
  • Information relating to employees who share protected characteristics (for public bodies with 150 or more employees)

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