Fighting to Keep Equality High on the Agenda in Tough Times; the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Wales Today Marks Its Second Birthday. Kate Bennett, National Director for the Commission in Wales, Looks Back over the Past Two Years

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Byline: Kate Bennett

OUR first two years has been a busy, exciting and challenging time, but, most of all, it has been an incredibly rewarding experience for all of us working here.

The rewards have been in hearing the stories from people across the country who are involved day-to-day in tackling discrimination and prejudice. We continue to be inspired by the dedication to achieving equality held by many in Wales, not least those promoting the rights of older people, who today mark the International Day of Older Persons. When we were created, we brought together three separate commissions - those for race, gender and disability.

All of these had their own priorities and different ways of working. We were also given responsibility for tackling discrimination faced by people because of their age, religion or belief, sexual orientation or because they are transgender. We listened to those on the front line as we settled into the new commission and forged a new identity. That took time, but we now have a commission suited to meet modern-day challenges.

And those challenges have come thick and fast - not least, the economic downturn, which has meant we have had to fight to keep equality high on the agenda in both the public and private sectors. This is because we know some people still hold the outdated view that equality is a disposable concern - one that can slip down the agenda during economic hardship.

We can't let that happen. We can't let the lives of those blighted by discrimination, prejudice and social exclusion worsen in this downturn. We can't let the gap between the haves and the havenots widen.

In fact, we know that equality practices - such as flexible working and diverse workforces - can be a tremendous benefit to employers during turbulent economic times. This is just one of the ideas the commission is pushing. This displays a key opportunity the new commission has presented us with - the chance to re-frame the entire debate around equality by promoting improvements for all - including businesses and public service providers.

This is what we mean when we say that our aim this year is to set a new agenda on equality and human rights. We'll be encouraging people to work together and see the wider opportunities to promote fairness for all.

This concept of promoting fairness for all underpins the work we have done so far. Our groundbreaking Who do you see? survey looked to examine attitudes in Wales as a way of answering the question how can we live together in a more harmonious way? The research focused on the everyday experiences of a vast range of people - be they at home, at work, at play, or accessing public services. The picture of Wales we found was a largely encouraging one. However, significant prejudice remains, particularly in attitudes towards gipsy travellers, transgender people, and people with mental health conditions.

A key finding of the report is that those with wide social networks are less likely to be prejudiced.

Therefore, bringing people together from all walks of life to discuss tough questions is central to the way the commission works. This includes bringing together members of the public, but also bringing together people representing certain groups. …