A Short History of the Equality and Diversity Forum

In 2001 the GB Government consulted on how to implement an EU directive banning workplace discrimination on grounds of age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation. At the same time, the Government also canvassed the potentially controversial possibility of creating a single statutory equality body to replace the existing Equal Opportunities Commission (dealing with sex equality), Commission for Racial Equality and Disability Rights Commission.

Sarah Spencer CBE

Sarah Spencer CBE

Taken together, these proposals constituted the biggest single shake-up of Britain’s equality infrastructure.

It was obvious that there were lessons to be learnt from the experience of the CRE, DRC and EOC and from the non-governmental organisations working in the field. So early in 2002, Patrick Grattan, then working on age discrimination in employment and Sarah Spencer, working on equality, human rights and migration issues, called a meeting of experts in all six fields (age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation) to share ideas on the government’s proposals. Surprisingly, despite their common concern with tackling inequality, up until then these people had rarely met.

Patrick Gratton

Patrick Grattan

It was intended to be a one-off gathering but participants had so much to discuss they decided to meet again. Eleven years later, they’re still meeting. The sharing of expertise between people who would not otherwise have been connected worked from the beginning. Participants also quickly realised that a pan-equality and human rights network could be much more than the sum of its parts, enabling its members to speak powerfully with one voice on issues of common interest whilst maintaining and enriching their specialist expertise.

So the one-off meeting turned into a monthly fixture with presentations, policy discussions and useful information exchange. The initial members were mainly NGOs working across a whole range of equality issues but also included the CRE, DRC and EOC. Some pilot funding provided by the Nuffield Foundation paid for EDF’s first member of staff from 2003 and EDF grew from there.

Since those early days EDF has:

  • shown that organisations with differing equality and human rights interests can work effectively together in pursuit of a fairer society, creating strong working relationships that have helped change the terms of the equalities and human rights debate;
  • played a central role in securing the 2006 and 2010 Equality Acts;
  • helped to set up and support the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities;
  • successfully ensured, with partners, that the legislation establishing the Equality and Human Rights Commission gave it sufficient powers and independence;
  • published a widely appreciated fortnightly newsletter with 4,000 subscribers;
  • provided guidance and information to thousands of organisations through our web-based resource bank, legal briefings, publications and events;
  • pioneered new thinking on difficult issues, such as handling situations where different equality groups or claims combine or might conflict with one another;
  • made numerous policy submissions, given evidence to select committees and briefed parliamentarians on a wide range of equality and human rights issues;
  • created an equalities and human rights research network;
  • created, with partners, a toolkit to help NGOs use the public sector equality duty;
  • launched a communications hub to support NGOs in communicating about human rights.

In its first few years, EDF did not have its own legal structure and operated with the support of its members, notably The Age and Employment Network (TAEN) and Help the Aged (subsequently part of Age UK) who allowed EDF to perch in their offices. In 2010, EDF became a charity in its own right, launching an ambitious three-year strategy at a reception with the Home Secretary the Rt Hon Theresa May MP the same year. And in 2012 EDF celebrated its 10th anniversary, coinciding with the appointment of Marie Staunton CBE as Chair succeeding Sarah Spencer CBE.