Belfast Telegraph

Figures in public eye 'set a poor example on equality'

Survey: Dr Michael Wardlow
Survey: Dr Michael Wardlow
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Public figures in Northern Ireland are failing to show good leadership on equality issues, according to a new survey.

While 90% of people questioned recognised the benefits of having an equal society, only one in five believed a good example was being set by those in power, according to the survey carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Equality Commission.

The study suggested there was growing support for stronger equality legislation.

"The survey put a series of statements about equality to 500 people in Northern Ireland," chief commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said.

"When asked, 90% agreed that equality and anti-discrimination laws were necessary and 76% agreed that equality and anti-discrimination laws should be strengthened.

"It's clear there is strong support for our equality legislation and for it to be updated and made more effective where necessary. It was striking, however, that the statement which attracted the most emphatic disagreement was that public figures show leadership on equality matters.

"Fifty-four percent expressed overall disagreement with this and 40% ticked the box for strongly disagree - a category which, for most other statements in the survey, rarely got out of single figures.

"Over the past few years, the commission has been drawing attention to, and urging government action on, worrying gaps between equality laws in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

"These include the absence of any protection against discrimination in goods, facilities and services on grounds of age, as well as deficiencies in race and sex discrimination laws."

Dr Wardlow said his organisation worked hard to promote equality of opportunity with both private employers and public bodies.

"We have always stressed to them the crucial importance of strong and supportive leadership on equality issues within their own organisations," he said.

"That same principle also applies in the wider context of ensuring equality of opportunity and the prevention of unlawful discrimination."

The survey also looked at attitudes towards education, public services and the workplace.

Some 71% agreed that schools were supportive of girls studying science, maths and technology subjects.

The majority (62%) felt bullying in schools tended to be on the basis of a child's personal characteristics, while 16% disagreed this was the case.

Almost nine in 10 respondents (89%) agreed that their local shops were accessible, while 76% also felt the streets and public spaces were well-planned and accessible.

The level of agreement around workplaces was mixed. Some 62% agreed that workplaces were welcoming and inclusive generally, while the same figure said workers were generally treated with dignity and respect.

However, just under half (48%) said workplaces tended to be family-friendly and allow flexible working.

Overall, the majority of participants agreed more needed to be done to promote good relations between people of different backgrounds (88%) and to promote equality of opportunity (80%).

Three quarters said the people of Northern Ireland were welcoming to others.

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