Eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act.
Advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a ‘relevant protected characteristic’ and others who do not share it; and Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not share it.
The public sector equality duty is intended to advance equality of opportunity to the extent that disadvantages suffered by persons with a “relevant protected characteristic” should be minimised or removed and encourage persons who share a “relevant protected characteristic” to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such person is disproportionately low. Having due regard to the need to foster good relations involves having due regard (in particular) to the need to tackle prejudice and to promote understanding.
The protected characteristics to which the duty applies are age, disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation, also marriage and civil partnership. In respect of their requirement to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination.
Having due regard to means consciously thinking about the statutory needs as part of the process of decision making, when the proposals are still at a formative stage, and before a decision is reached. This means that consideration of those equality issues must influence the decisions reached by public bodies. The equality Duty must be exercised in substance, with rigour and with an open mind.
Indirect discrimination occurs where a condition criterion or practice is applied which would put people with one of the protected characteristics at a disadvantage, and the imposition of that condition, criterion or practice is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, i.e. it cannot be objectively justified.
So where did the county council go wrong.
They said that they have to secure vacant possession of the site to enable the planned sale of the property in accordance with a decision taken by the council to sell it in order to generate capital receipts to support its “meeting the challenge” programme. The “challenge” of course being how to privatise everything without anyone noticing.
Unfortunately for them on the 6th of January we came along with the intention of “disclosing a process of learning the skills and techniques required to move towards a home founded upon the principles of economic autonomy and ecological resilience.” These are our signifies. Basically we believe that environment education has to inform action and right now it is action that is most urgently required. We don’t want to use labels and identities that would make further distinctions and discriminations. We want to create a style of political discourse that is inclusive, based in substance, rigorous and open minded. We believe that the concept of the Home can be used to enlighten such a discourse draw from intentions and affectations of a lived experience we all share namely being at home.
But the council needs labels. It needs to make distinctions and discriminations, direct or indirect. So for them we are squatters and trespassers local and non local environmental activists. They state in the assessment that, “none of the activists are homeless or from any vulnerable groups.” How did the council come to this conclusion? Well, all their actions so far have been managed in accordance with the Unauthorised Encampment protocol. The protocol as supplied in appendix 1 of their case bundle does not actually define an encampment. One would assume it would refer to temporary or mobile structures like tents or caravans- but we are living in buildings. Anyway they have their protocol and their rubber stamps at the ready. Gloucestershire County Council had a meeting on the 20th January to which we were not invited but the outcome of the meeting apparently ‘focused on ‘the welfare of the squatters” before pursuing any other form of action’.
So on the 24th January a group of council officers came to visit us. One of them was a man in tracksuit who wanted to make individual welfare assessments with a form he had brought with him. He wanted to do this immediately but we were concerned that this would take up too much time so we suggested that we would complete the forms for collection the following day. When one of the council agents returned the next day we hadn’t filled in the forms because we thought they were inappropriate and demeaning’ why did we think this? This was a question the council never asked, but in the equality impact assessment they refer to this as such; ‘the detailed assessments have been refused’. Why were they refused? Well the form was of such poor quality we couldn’t be sure as to whether or not it was some kind of joke. Of the 10 questions there were two blatant errors one of which referred to education they corrected this error in the copy they later gave to the judge, in the court bundle it reads...
Do you need any help with education?
The forms the guy in the tracksuit gave us read:
Do you need help any education?
Not the most severe error but enough for us to question the professionalism of this so called public body.
I’ll spare you the details of the rest of meeting, they were mostly concerned with the adventure playground and the compost toilet. No the officer didn’t want to use them they were concern that the use of such facilities would engender gross health and safety violations. We tried to calm them down and get them to talk sense. At one point we tried to change the subject by suggested that these situation presented an opportunity to challenge this compensation culture that caused them so much concern. The lead officer took this very seriously and expressed his doubts as to whether reopening the wilderness centre was the best way to approach this issue. He even noted it down and presented it in their case against us. We did eventually explain to them the reasons we were here. However this was not noted down and it is this failure to listen that constitutes their neglect of duty and subsequent indirect discrimination against us.
The following week the council and other ‘interested parties’ had a final ‘welfare’ meeting to decide how to get rid of us. We came along and managed to sit down before they realised who we were and asked us to leave the building. We promised them we would be available to answer any questions with regard to our welfare and the going concern of the wilderness centre. Needless to say they yet again ignored us. Satisfied with their protocol and impact assessment they made there decision and began their barrage of paper.
The impact assessments has to identify where any particular group is affected differently by a policy (namely the “Meeting the Challenge” programme) in either a negative or positive way. It lists each of the protected characteristics, other groups e.g. rural isolation, long term unemployed, health inequality, carers; socio-economically deprived groups; and finally any issues concerning community cohesion.
So here goes, the authorities need a label then a label we shall give them.
We are peasants.
Protect The Wilderness