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What is an Equality Impact Assessment?

By Jeany Miller
Updated May 17, 2024
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The equality impact assessment (EqIA) is a tool largely used in the United Kingdom to discourage discriminatory policies and practices. This evaluation is often based on three individual components: the effects of a project on society, the environment and health. Accordingly, the social impact assessment may review how a project or plan may influence wealth, while the environmental assessment may consider the ways in which industry influences air quality. The health impact assessment often considers how a project may hurt or benefit people and its potential for leading to new lifestyle habits.

The Parliament of the United Kingdom passed the Equality Act 2006 to protect the rights of all UK citizens. Its essential aim is to transcend boundaries that may normally exist within gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, race and disabilities contexts. Pregnancy, maternity and gender re-assignment are additional characteristics now afforded protection against discrimination. The act is both supported and enforced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is a merged organization from three individual commissions originally protective of racial equality, equal opportunity and disability rights.

The Equality Act 2010 was born from those statutes originally developed by the 2006 act. This framework is an updated version that allegedly provides for greater accessibility to the policies and defines individuals’ rights in a more succinct manner. Parliament officials intend that, in turn, the laws are easier to comply with and can be readily applied to businesses, public bodies and individuals.

One axis that has developed from this commitment to parity is the equality impact assessment. This is an evaluation tool structured in line with the provisions of the 2010 act. The EqIA objective is to improve the quality of life for UK citizens by ensuring that individuals and corporations consider the impact of their actions on groups or communities. In this manner, negative consequences have the potential to be eliminated or minimized before actions are implemented.

An equality impact assessment is expected to be conducted before service agencies and corporations enact policies. Parliament also largely believes this should be a guideline for service delivery. Where an assessment reveals the risk of discrimination against any protected class, action should be taken to address those risks. As such, the equality impact assessment often regards three points: society, environment and health.

People may be impacted by any number of developmental projects. For example, a plan to promote commercial agriculture may lead to significant wealth changes for a segmented population, whereas building a new airport may impose housing consequences for another area. A tool known as a social impact assessment (SIA) helps identify those influences a proposed project or policy may create. Consensus generally regards this as an important component of the equality impact assessment. Although an SIA may occur in many countries and across diverse industries, the methodologies used for assessment are likely to vary considerably.

Similar to that conducted for social implications, an environmental impact assessment (EIA) examines a project’s potential for influencing nature. The EIA is often developed through study and analysis, which in turn informs policy makers and the affected public. In those instances where the EIA recognizes negative consequences to the land, such as disturbances in air quality or destruction of wetlands, alternatives to the proposed project may be provided. Changes in infrastructure, industrial development and private sector actions may each influence the environment differently, thus creating a need for the EIA in many practices. In turn, an equality impact assessment often uses the EIA to identify environmentally-appropriate policies.

Just as corporate and governmental actions may alter the environment, these same activities may also have profound impacts on human health. Transportation, for example, is often a contributor to traffic injuries, air pollution and noise. Policies designed to improve health may reduce these risks and also encourage beneficial activities like walking and cycling. The health impact assessment (HIA) is an instrument that may gauge the impact of projects and policies in diverse economic sectors. When considered as part of the equality impact assessment, the HIA may alleviate undue burdens to impoverished or underdeveloped areas.

The EqIA is largely a component of the United Kingdom Parliament. Its individual components, however, may be used throughout the globe. These segmented portions often allow policy makers to consider the whole of a project from many different angles. Such an approach may lead to changes in the culture of public decision making and a more proactive approach to the promotion of equality.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Oct 14, 2014

@literally45-- I don't think that's a very good idea. The last I heard, the UK government was cutting down on some of these assessments because of the delay in making new policies. The assessments apparently slow down everything and it takes forever for new policies to come out. It's having a negative impact on businesses for example who can't keep up with the global market due to the slow bureaucracy.

Of course, some kind of equality impact assessment needs to exist. But it should not bog down the system or prevent institutions from decision-making.

By literally45 — On Oct 13, 2014

@burcinc-- There are definitely assessments in the US for this sort of thing but I don't know if they are as comprehensive as the UK program. But I know for example that US government agencies have gender assessment metrics to assess the impact the programs will have on gender.

The UK program does sound a bit more comprehensive though. Maybe the US can model some of their assessments after the ones in the UK.

By burcinc — On Oct 13, 2014

I think that the equality impact assessment used in the UK is a brilliant idea. In most countries, such issues are either not considered at all or considered after it's too late. UK's equality impact assessment sounds like a preventative measure aimed to ensure equality and avoid social and environmental negative impacts in the first place.

Do we have something like this in the US? A similar assessment for projects?

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