Examining the UK legislations timeline, the first whiff of equality came in the form of the Representation of the People Act 1918. The 1918 Act reformed the electoral system by giving some women the right to vote. However, they had to meet specific criteria, some being:
- Over 30
- A householder or spouse of the householder
- Occupier of a rented property whose annual rent was £5
- Or a British university graduate
These women were not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections before this. The 1918 Act also gave the vote to all men over the age of 21. It appears the primary purpose of the Act focused on soldiers returning from the First World War, previously denied the right to vote because of property and residential qualifications! It was ten years later in 1929 before women were given the same voting rights as men.
Next came the 1944 Disabled Persons (Employment) Act followed by the Race Relations Act 1965, three years after I was born. The 1965 Act banned racial discrimination in public places. The promotion of hatred on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins also became a criminal offence.
The Sexual Offences Act 1967, partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales. However, if you served in the UK Armed Forces, policy guidelines suggested a
‘homosexual lifestyle were “incompatible” with military life citing “the close physical conditions in which personnel often have to live and work, and also because homosexual behaviour can cause offence, polarise relationships, induce ill-discipline and damage morale and unit effectiveness”.
The 1970s saw the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976. Later came the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, with the Race Relations (Amendment Act) 2000 which placed a ‘positive’ duty on public authorities to promote race equality and required each to produce a race equality scheme (RES) with regular impact assessments.