The Race Relations Act

The Race Relations Act (RRA) 1976 amended 2000 makes it unlawful to treat a person less favourably than another on racial grounds. These cover grounds of race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), and national or ethnic origin.

The RRA (Amendment) act outlawed discrimination (direct and indirect) and victimisation in all public authority functions not previously limited exceptions. It also placed a general duty on specified public authorities to promote race equality and good race relations. There are also specific duties for listed organisations including the production of Race Equality Schemes (RES).

Positive discrimination, sometimes called affirmative action, is illegal in the UK. There is a common confusion between (illegal) positive discrimination and (legal) positive action.

Preferential treatment for any group at the point of selection is illegal.

The Race Relations Act does not allow positive discrimination or affirmative action - in other words, an employer cannot try to change the balance of the workforce by selecting someone mainly because she or he is from a particular racial group. This would be discrimination on racial grounds, and unlawful.

The term 'positive action' refers to measures that may lawfully be taken to meet special needs or to train or encourage people from a racial group that is under-represented in particular work.

Section 37 of the act allows training or encouragement to be provided for a particular racial group that is under-represented in a particular work stream or area. Where there is national under-representation – that is, where, during the previous 12 months, no one from a particular racial group has done the work in question in Great Britain, or where the proportion of people from that group doing that work was small compared to its proportion of the population of Great Britain. In this case, training or encouragement can be provided exclusively for the racial group (or groups) in question.