plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

During the course of my continuous professional development reading today, I’ve been looking through content related to the UK’s Equality Act 2010. As a very quick overview here, the Act brings together and replaces previous legislation on race relations, disability discrimination and sex discrimination. In theory, it’s intended that this will make the law in these areas simpler.

The Equality Act 2010 outlines nine ‘protected characteristics’ (or groups, of which we all belong to at least one). These characteristics are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. As I was reading various information documents I began to think more on the characteristic of ‘age’.

It seems I’m not the only one to have thought about the question of age discrimination against children . . .

The Children’s Rights Alliance of England (CRAE) offer a very useful guide for children and young people (Making the most of the Equality Act 2010: a guide for children and young people in England). In this document, the CRAE state that the Equality Act 2010:

. . . only gives adults (over 18s) full legal protection from unlawful age discrimination. Children and young people are excluded from this new protection. However, you can still bring claims based on other characteristics such as disability, race, sex, etc. CRAE has been campaigning for many years to get under 18s protection from age discrimination.

At least CRAE are on the case. In 2009, before the Act received Royal Assent, CRAE produced a lobbying document called: Making the case: why children should be protected from age discrimination and how it can be done – proposals for the Equality Bill

My critique of this document is that, whilst it pays due attention to teenagers, babies and young children, there’s not enough regard to the societal needs of children in the 4-11 age bracket. That said, it does make for interesting reading. As an overview here, it investigates age discrimination of children and young people in terms of access to goods, facilities and services. It states, regarding the then upcoming Equality Act (p.4):

The UK Government proposes to extend age discrimination protection beyond the workplace, to cover the provision of goods, facilities and services.

The document looks at children and young people’s access to healthcare, child protection, justice, public leisure services, shops and restaurants, and public transport.

As I read I began making links with my recent observations of adults’ attitudes to children in Sweden, in places such as public transport.

On their main website, CRAE highlight:

April 2010 – Equality Act receives Royal Assent but excludes under-18s from age discrimination protection.

The Equality Act 2010 received Royal Assent on 8 April 2010. The Act, which brings together all existing discrimination legislation and extends protection from unfair treatment, explicitly excludes children and young people from legal protection from unfair discrimination on the grounds of age.

Why do we, in the UK, continue to treat our children with such disregard? Here are some interesting quotes from the Making the Case document:

‘The provisions will not cover people under 18. It is right to treat children and young people differently, for example through age limits on alcohol consumption, and there is little evidence of harmful age discrimination against young people.’

Harriet Harman, [then] Minister for Women and Equality, statement in the House of Commons, 26 June 2008.

Really, former Minister for Women and Equality?

The Australian Age Discrimination Act 2004 outlaws age discrimination in a range of areas beyond employment, including education, housing, goods, facilities and services. Children are explicitly included in this protection.

Australian Age Discrimination Act 2004, Section 33.

‘My local council have just made an allotment rule that requires children under the age of 16 to be accompanied by an adult at all times. There are tenants who’s [sic] children go to the allotment on their own to collect eggs and even to cultivate the plot. These children will now be prohibited from doing this. Are the council able to discriminate against children in this manner?’

Adult e-mail to CRAE advice line (18 December 2008).

‘If the Prime Minister lived my life for a week, he would find that he is constantly victimised just for being a young person . . . He would find that instead of being able to go where he wants, when he wants, that he is restricted by signs saying ‘no more than one child at any time’. At this point he’d think to himself, if that sign said ‘no more than one gay at any time’ or ‘no more than one old person at any time’, that it would be against the law.’

17 year old, Children’s Rights Alliance for England (2007). Online survey, Get Ready for Change

On their website, CRAE’s timeline of action posting for February 2010 (in the last throes of the former Labour Government) states:

The Government has said that it is ‘firmly committed to eradicating age discrimination wherever it arises. No-one should be treated badly just because of their age.’ Yet, in a recent speech, Harriet Harman, the Minister for Equality and Women claimed that ‘. . . older people are the last remaining group that society deems it acceptable to discriminate against.’ Young Equals [co-ordinated by CRAE] believes that such a statement undermines the legitimacy of children and young people’s experiences and reinforces the idea that they do not experience age discrimination. This is not the case and we call on the Government to amend the Equality Bill in order to extend legal protection from unfair discrimination on the grounds of age to children and young people.

This blog posting of mine is not an indication of my political persuasion. The current Coalition Government must take responsibility. I have no further comment on the question posed in the title of this blog piece: I think the CRAE have made a good case and I’d just like to bring it to your attentions, my fellow play and playwork colleagues.

Comments on: "Is UK age discrimination against children legal?" (2)

  1. Thank you for providing such interesting examples of inclusive equality legislation for under 18’s. I have been disappointed to see that, despite a promise to review this in the Services Statutory Code of the Equality Act (1.1) it still hasn’t been changed in any way even with the increased contributions that younger people are having on the development of our society – in many cases, more so than some adults!

    Click to access servicescode_0.pdf

    I hope that there may be a sensible, overdue amendment tot recognise their contributions in the post-Brexit review of the Act in 2021. Thanks again for the useful information, although I was hoping to find the opposite in a matter I am dealing with in regards to services.

    • Anji, thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. This post is well overdue an update, especially in light of recent youth activism on climate change, for example. However, it’s still a moot point that children’s rights are often largely paid only lip service to, both at governmental level and locally. The UNCRC is not truly given the regard that children deserve, and Articles 12 and 31 (with the addition of General Comment 17, regarding play) in particular are not universally adopted with true integrity. Even in the current Covid-19 global crisis, children’s rights (e.g. Spain’s recently lifted internment at home of children, albeit well-meaning), re: Art.31, and opinions (e.g. the UK government’s approach to school closures and the lack of reporting on coronavirus testing for those children), re: Art.12, children are discriminated against and all but disregarded. Other reports predict a mental health crisis amongst children, to follow the current viral one, and we should also factor in epigenetic research suggesting transmission of anxiety two generations beyond the current one, if these mental health predictions are to prove correct. A disregard of children’s rights in the present can and no doubt will also have significant generational and societal effects later down the line.

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