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Care experience now protected characteristic in Bath & North East Somerset 

Local council unanimously passes motion to ensure that care-experienced people have the same benefits and safeguards as those covered by equalities law. 

Bath & North East Somerset Council has taken a bold step to support those in the region who have experienced being in care. Councillors agreed unanimously that benefits stipulated under the Equalities Act 2010 for those with ‘protected characteristics’ should be extended to care-experienced people.  

Jake and Cllr Paul May at the meeting of Bath & North East Somerset Council

Jake and Cllr Paul May at the council meeting, photo courtesy of Bath & North East Somerset Council

What does this actually mean?  

The Equalities Act had two main purposes: harmonising previous law on discrimination and strengthening the law generally to support progress on equality. Section 1 requires ministers, government departments, local authorities and some other bodies to consider their decisions ‘in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.’ In practice, that means the listed public bodies have a legal duty to consider how their policies, programmes and service delivery affect people with ‘protected characteristics’ listed under Section 4. 

At present, these protected characteristics recognised under the law are: age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. Bath and North East Somerset Council has opted to add care-experienced people to the list. 

The result is that care-experienced people must be considered when the council considers strategic decisions. It should also help to advance equality of opportunity, minimise disadvantage and offer protection against discrimination, harassment and victimisation. 

It’s hoped the decision will bring significant benefits to care-experienced people in the region. Bath and North East Somerset Council is corporate parent to children and young people in the region who are in care. It supports care-experienced people up to the age of 25: some 110 young people are currently allocated to a personal advisor and a further 90 young people aged 21-25 are able to seek support at any time. To support these care-experienced people, the council works with Off the Record. 

Cllr Paul May, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, who brought the motion to the council, says: ‘Our duty as councillors is to do everything we can for those children and young adults. We should be asking whether the support and services we provide “would be good enough for my child?” Positive action is needed to redress inequalities that result from the care experience and treating it as a protected characteristic will help ensure the council avoids any decisions or policies which could inadvertently discriminate against care experienced people. 

‘This motion is our opportunity to say and do the right thing for our own young people who have experienced our care, at whatever stage they are in their lives, and I’m delighted that councillors from all parties have agreed it. We are starting with protecting the characteristic within our own services, but we call on other local bodies to follow suit.’ 

But the last word should go to Jake, who is 17 years-old and currently in care in the region. At the council meeting where the motion was unanimously carried, he said: ‘Recognising care experience as a protected characteristic can empower care experienced people to live the life they want to live without judgement or stigma, to build lasting, meaningful relationships and create a sense of belonging and inclusivity. We know first hand how much of society struggle to understand us. 

‘We want to feel like our council is moving away from misunderstanding care-experience and fighting against a culture of deficit, and stigma. Please be better corporate parents for us and consider adopting care-experience like a protected characteristic.’ 

In related news:

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