The Localism Act received Royal Assent on 15 November, marking the passage into law a key item on the government’s legislative agenda. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has raised a number of concerns that provisions in the Act would enable religious groups to assume control over public services, and potentially use exemptions in equality law to discriminate in employment and the provision of services.
The Localism Act contains a wide variety of measures in pursuit of the government’s aim to decentralise power and pass control over public services to local communities. A key provision, the community right to challenge, enables community groups – including religious organisations – the right to bid to run services previously operated by local authorities.
The BHA raised concerns early in the process, and once the Bill had been published we called foramendments in the draft legislation to ensure public services remained inclusive and secular. During the passage of the Act through both houses of parliament, the BHA briefed MPs and provided a written submission to the committee examining the Bill outlining our concerns. BHA Vice President Baroness Janet Whitaker later brought these concerns to the attention of the House of Lords along with other members of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group. BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson also raised the problems of taking public services away from secular organisations when he appeared before a Parliamentary Select Committee in June.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips said: ‘We regret that without the introduction of appropriate safeguards, such as suspending the exemptions religious organisations have in the Equality Act 2010 while they are working under contract to provide public services, and of course with its new Community Right to Challenge, the Localism Act may greatly increase the risk and practice of religious discrimination in local public services.’
‘It is important to ensure that any groups bidding to run public services are held to high equality standards, and that services are not used as a means to proselytise and force religion on service users. We strongly encourage anyone with concerns to contact us and help in the campaign for secular and inclusive public services.’
Take Action! Faith-based public services: Let us know what’s happening in your area
Read more about the BHA’s work on the Big Society and Localism
For further comment, contact Naomi Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7079 3585
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.More Articles by Humanists UK ...