Taxpayer-funded, comprehensive and statutory public services, to which all citizens have an entitlement, are in the process of major reform. Worryingly, services that should be open to all can be threatened by discriminatory religious organisations.
Initiated by the Labour Government, public service provision was transformed by the Coalition when it extended the process by placing contracts for public services with private (‘second sector’) and voluntary (‘third sector’) organisations. These measures were partly adopted as a method of reducing government spending, but also as a means of engagement with the Coalition Government’s ‘Big Society’. The trend has continued apace under the Conservatives.
Previously the great majority of public service provision was in the hands of secular bodies (public or through contractors). There is no evidence that the public were dissatisfied with this. The main example of non-secular public service provision has traditionally been state-funded religious schools, to which, notably, as many as four out of five people are hostile. However, as part of a greater marketisation of services in welfare, employment, health, social care and housing services, the Coalition Government promoted public service contracts with religious organisations. The current Government continues to do so.
This is important as religious organisations, even those under contract to provide public services, have exemptions from the Equality Act 2010. These exemptions allow them to discriminate in various ways. For example, the exemptions from employment equality legislation allow religious employers to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief and of sexual orientation. This would apply in future recruitment and against current employees, for example by barring them from promotion or by dismissing them. Religious organisations can also deliver services in a religious environment and treat service users in a discriminatory way.
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