Chapter 6:
Conclusion and Summary

6.1 In responding to SACHR's report on employment equality, this White Paper has set out a coherent set of policy decisions which will determine the direction of the new Government's future strategies. The White Paper accepts SACHR's basic analysis that the current Fair Employment legislation, which is having a positive impact on equality of opportunity for those in work, should be supplemented by measures to assist those who are unemployed. Furthermore, the promotion of equality of opportunity must be effectively mainstreamed into the work of the public sector. This will be a demanding agenda, which will build upon the foundations established by the Fair Employment legislation.

6.2 More specifically, the Government will seek to create a synergy between a range of new initiatives which it has planned, either at national or Northern Ireland level, to benefit the unemployed or those at risk of becoming the next generation of unemployed. First among these is the New Deal, with considerable sums of additional public expenditure planned. Childcare, transport, education and training policies will also make a positive contribution to this end. A re-launched Targeting Social Need initiative, with a primary focus on the unemployed, will seek to direct Government programme resources to those objectively identified as being most in need. This will be linked to a parallel Promoting Social Inclusion initiative which will draw on the innovative approaches of the Social Exclusion Initiative in England.

6.3 Tackling unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment, is key to addressing many other manifestations of social disadvantage. The Government will not differentiate between Protestant and Catholic unemployed in the implementation of its policies. However, it is conscious that the continuing unemployment differential between the communities is an indicator of Catholic socio-economic disadvantage; it is not a valid indicator of the success, or otherwise, of the Fair Employment legislation, nor of discrimination in recruitment. In line with well-established TSN principles, the Government would hope that action to help the unemployed, whatever their community background, would have the effect, over time, of eroding the unemployment differential. It will endeavour, in co-operation with its social partners and others, to agree what these benchmarks should be. A substantial reduction in the unemployment differential by the time of the 2011 Census should be a realistic aspiration, not solely for Government, but for society as a whole.
6.4 One of the most radical proposals in the White Paper envisages statutory obligations to promote equality of opportunity throughout the public sector, superseding the current PAFT guidelines. To give direction and oversight to this major institutional change, it is proposed that the existing equality commissions should be merged to form a new statutory authority. This proposal is far reaching, both in its implications for the public sector and in the breadth of its definition of the areas where equality of opportunity should apply.

6.5 Statistical evidence has demonstrated that fairness in recruitment is being achieved and that consistent progress is being made towards fair participation. The essential balance of the Fair Employment legislation has therefore been justified by events. To take account of experience and changing work patterns, a number of amendments are proposed to the legislation as it affects employment, notably in the field of monitoring. The Government also proposes to extend the scope of the legislation against religious discrimination to the fields of goods, facilities, services and premises.

6.6 These proposals will have an impact beyond employment and the economy. They are intended to contribute directly to improved community relations, to social justice and to the achievement of a durable peace. They constitute part of the practical implementation of the principles of equality of opportunity, equity of treatment and parity of esteem which guide the Government's policies in Northern Ireland.

6.7 The Government offers its gratitude again to SACHR for its report on employment equality, which has occasioned this extensive review of policies in Northern Ireland. A further review of comparable scale will be needed in due course to confirm whether sufficient progress has been made in Fair Employment and related policies. This will be launched by 2005, at the latest, and will make full use of data from the next decennial Census.

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