The Equality and Human Rights Commission opened today with the aim of making Britain a fairer, more equal place to live. A survey to mark the launch reveals the scale of its challenge, as nearly half of Britons say they have faced unfair discrimination.
The Commission, or CEHR, will provide information and practical guidance to employers, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals. It will monitor performance and enforce equality law in the areas of age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender status, and encourage compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998.
The CEHR was established by the Equality Act 2006 as a single equality body with responsibility for challenging discrimination across society. It replaces the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.
The CEHR's human rights mandate requires it to promote a human rights culture, particularly ensuring that higher standards of dignity and respect are applied to those in institutional care, for example children, the elderly and those in psychiatric care.
The establishment of the CEHR follows criticism that the three previous equality Commissions were failing to use their enforcement powers to control racial, disability and sexual discrimination.
A report from the Public Interest Research Unit, published in September last year, claimed that neglect by the Commissions helped ensure that the majority of discriminators got away with committing unlawful acts.
Trevor Phillips, chair of CEHR said: "The previous Commissions have made enormous advances, changing Britain into a fairer place. But much remains to be done.
"The new Commission is building on their legacy to achieve change to benefit some of the most disadvantaged and voiceless people in our society."
The CEHR survey pinpointed ethnicity, disability, religion and age as the top causes of unfairness; a third or more identified these as the basis for discrimination. When prompted half of those questioned also said that sexual orientation was often a reason for unfair treatment.
Two out of five (41%) of those who said they faced discrimination of some kind said it occurred at work, while three quarters of all those interviewed (74%) think that work was the most common setting where people experienced discrimination.
The survey was based on responses from 1,087 adults.
Nearly three quarters (73%) of those who experienced discrimination said they did not make a complaint. 38% of those who experienced discrimination said they did not complain because they thought there was nothing to be gained.
Phillips said: "This is the clearest reason for the existence of the CEHR. Unless people feel they can deal openly with unfairness we risk a simmering cauldron of resentment to poison our workplaces.
"Our work isn't supporting vexatious litigation by a few persistent grumblers; it is about building a fairer, more confident and more united Britain."
Dr Nicola Brewer, chief executive of CEHR, said the new body was "a milestone along the road to a fairer, more equal Britain."
She added: "How we live together is one of the big challenges of the 21st Century; as serious as climate change and more immediate. The new Commission is working to eliminate discrimination, reduce inequality, protect human rights and to build good relations, ensuring that everyone has a right to participate in society."
Meanwhile, today marked the first anniversary of age discrimination legislation in the UK which effectively makes it illegal for companies to treat employees and job candidates differently because of their age.
A new study by the Employers Forum on Age suggests 86% of workers know that it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of age at work, up from just 51% this time last year.
But in a statement, the Forum said that "ageism is still endemic in the workplace," with 59% of workers claiming to have witnessed ageist behaviour at work in the 12 months since the new laws came into force. Its survey was conducted among 1,000 workers.