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People are at the heart of services, campaigns and advocacy. We share a common humanity, as well as having many differences. The most effective services and campaigns take into account our common humanity and differences. An equality and human rights-based approach helps put into practice an understanding of how to do this, and improves outcomes for everyone. Find out more.

Use this framework flexibly.  Ideally, you will use it to identify and set strategic priorities to achieve a step-change in your organisation. Or you can use it to get ideas for more short-term projects and initiatives.

Decide what you want to achieve and how to go about it.


One: Look at the five modules for ideas. Think about:

  • Which areas or issues do you already perform well on?
  • Which areas or issues would most benefit from more work?
  • Who do you want to achieve change for? Which of their rights are not respected and what’s the impact on their lives? Where’s the greatest need and opportunity?
  • Which goals might be easier to achieve progress on?
  • Who can lead the work – and how much time and resource do you need?

Two: Involve people.

You’ll need involve the right range of people at the right times. It can be helpful initially to get a full variety of perspectives from your organisation – and to establish a broad ownership of how you’ll be using the framework. It’s also useful to get views from other stakeholders – service users, community members, partners, public bodies you work with, and funders.

Involvement could include discussion of your organisation’s equality and human rights values, a SWOT analysis on how they’re put into practice, and the potential to deepen or develop new ways to use them to achieve positive change.

Three: Pull together information you need to get started. Think about what creates support for change in your organisation:

  • Statistical evidence? You could use a PESTEL, a rights-based gap analysis, or an evidence review.
  • Stories of people’s experiences? Try a survey to gather real life examples.
  • Learning by doing? Set up an action learning project to explore the issues and develop next steps.
  • Or a mix of these?

Four: Pick one module or priority to focus on that will help achieve your core business or purpose – and set a related objective.

Choose an objective that is strategic to give purpose, direction and visibility to your work on equality and human rights.  Pick something that connects directly to progressing your vision, mission, values, or organisational strategy. Or one that can create a step change in an area that’s really needed.

We all work in a time-poor environment – and you can achieve more, with more buy in, by choosing one strategic objective.

If you’re able to take a more comprehensive approach, we recommend shaping work around no more than three objectives at a time.

Your strategic objective could focus on:

  • Who: a key affected group, like disabled people; to achieve greater equality between them and others. This approach is helpful when you know that a specific group are under-represented or face worse outcomes and want to take targeted action
  • What: a key theme, like improving service outcomes. This approach unifies, and can create change that helps people from a number of affected groups.
  • How: applying a human rights-based approach to improve customer experience and outcomes
  • Or a combination of the above.

Who:  People or groups who can face disadvantage and inequality are –

  • Older people
  • Children and young people
  • Black and minority ethnic people, or specific BAME communities
  • Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees
  • D/deaf people, including those who use British Sign Language
  • Disabled people, including people with physical, visual and hearing impairments, learning disabilities, mental health problems, and long term health conditions such as HIV, MS or cancer
  • Trans or intersex people
  • Women, or women facing multiple disadvantages
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual people
  • People with caring responsibilities
  • People of minority faiths, or minorities within faith groups
  • People of lower socioeconomic position, based on class, poverty, being unemployed or working poor
  • People who experience chronic disadvantage and social exclusion such as  Gypsies and Travellers, homeless people, people with a history of offending.

A simple community and client profiling exercise compares the demographic profile of who is in your community or area of benefit, and your service users, campaign beneficiaries, trustees, staff and volunteers.

Take a look at census data to get started. You’ll need to use proxy data for people and groups who don’t show up or are under-represented in the census – LGBT people, BSL users and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

When focusing on a specific group, it’s important to be clear this is because of the inequality, disadvantage or barriers they face relative to others – and that the aim is achieve greater equality.

Remember: no-one is defined by a single group – and how a lack of rights manifests is often due to a combination of factors. This is often called intersectionality. For example: in some sectors, men over 50 who are made redundant are unlikely to find work. In other sectors, it is women over 50 who face discrimination. In both cases the combination or intersection of gender and age is the reason. The cause of the problem is the same – discriminatory attitudes, practices and barriers that can be removed.

Depending on your circumstances, it may be more helpful to use a group -focused or themed approach.

What: Possible themes you might want to create change on include –

  • Improving unequal service outcomes
  • Improving the quality of public services
  • Making public services meet people’s real needs
  • Making services and products accessible for all
  • Improving access to safe and confidential information
  • Changing discriminatory or unfair treatment
  • Tackling human rights abuse such as hate crime, domestic or gender violence and abuse, elder or child abuse
  • Making more use of equality law in advocacy
  • Overcoming barriers to inclusion, recruitment or progression
  • Inclusive leadership and management
  • Introducing flexible working.

Five: Plan.

Set your objective, use or adapt the goals, actions, measures and impacts from one or more of the modules in this framework

Remember: treat planning equality and human rights activity like planning any other activity. Identify the people, money, resources, and time to make it happen. Be clear about who is accountable.

Adapt your existing systems to plan, manage, monitor and report on progress. Build the equality and human rights activity into them in a way that’s easily identifiable, so you can pull them out and review progress.

Or use this planning template and monitoring template (both open in Word).

Active and visible leadership is essential.

Research shows that having the support of leaders for equality and human rights makes all the difference. Progress is easier and quicker.

In any organisation people are at different starting points on equality and human rights. People can:

  • Be keen to do something, know what needs doing or how to find out, and need permission to start
  • Be interested but unsure of what to do
  • Never have thought about it
  • Think ‘we’re nice people and treat everyone the same, so there’s no need to do anything about equality or human rights’
  • Be stuck in old-fashioned ways of thinking about equality with rigid views about what’s ‘allowed’ and what’s not
  • Be actively or passively resistant, for a wide variety of reasons, including deeply held, unconscious emotions and triggers
  • And everything in between.

Active, visible leadership makes it clear that this is about organisational priorities – and not personal opinions. It removes the subjective, personal element that often blocks progress.

Tips for Leaders.

If you don’t have the support of leaders, you have two main options:

One: Do it anyway! We can all show leadership and make things happen within our own area of influence, and a lot of progress can be made.

Two: Persuade leaders to come on board – or more on board. This could be by:

  • Making a case with stories, surveys, and feedback from people affected, statistical evidence, academic research or stakeholder interviews. Set out evidence of need; how the work helps achieve organisational priorities; the positive difference it could make; and the harm, cost, or missed opportunities of doing nothing.
  • Benchmarking what three other organisations are doing; sharing good practice that could be used or adapted in your organisation.
  • Piloting an initiative, making sure to gather evidence of the before and after picture, progress and the difference you made (not just what you did).
  • Making the case to use this Framework to achieve strategic change. This should help.

This section gives an overview of the main equality and human rights concepts.

Growing your organisation’s understanding of equality and human rights, and how they can help your work will be a process of continuous development.

How much you need to develop before taking action depends on your circumstances. For example: with high levels of staff turnover, you’ll struggle to train everyone before getting started. Try adopting an agile, or learning-while-doing approach instead.


It’s helpful to have a working definition of equality that makes sense for your organisation. It frames and structures your thinking and actions. Two options are:

One: Equality is made up of five interlinked elements:

  • Economic: the distribution of and access to resources such as income, jobs, education, health and housing
  • Political: access to influence and decision making, and having a say in decisions that affect people´s own lives.
  • Cultural: the difference in status and in access to opportunities between different people and groups, and the way society does or does not accommodate difference
  • Affective: access to respect and trust, and to loving and caring relationships
  • Legal: this includes laws against discrimination and harassment, legal remedies for breaches of the law, and positive duties to advance equality. The Equality Act 2010 is the main law to be aware of.

Using this definition can help your organisation unpack what different people and groups are experiencing and suggest areas for action.

Two: Equality is about making a reality of our common humanity and the fact that we are all born equal in worth, dignity and rights.

This is human-rights based definition of equality, drawn from article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A human rights-based definition of equality emphasises what unites us and shows that equality is relevant to us all. It sets out what we can all strive for: a world in which people’s common humanity, equal worth, dignity and rights are respected in practice.

It can be used to make the link between equality and human rights and your organisation’s values.

It can help avoid the trap of equality being seen as something that’s only about special interest groups, or what is and isn’t permissible under the law.

It helps to generate support and action. It enables people to find common cause with others. It helps people see the connections between the inequalities that are protected against by equality law (like sex discrimination) and those that are not (like people facing disadvantage because their worth, dignity or rights are not being respected because of socioeconomic inequality).

It’s particularly helpful if you want to take a combined equality and human rights approach.

Whichever definition you use, it’s important to keep in mind that equality is not about ‘treating everyone the same regardless of who they are’. It’s about taking into account both our common humanity and our differences so that we get the best possible outcomes for everyone.

It’s also important to know about the Equality Act 2010.

Equality Act 2010

This is the UK’s main law regulating equality. You can use it to help improve your own work, and to influence public and private sector bodies to improve.

The Equality Act covers most aspects of life under 3 key areas:

  • Employment
  • Goods, facilities and services (including consumer, rented and private property, utilities, financial services, transport, leisure)
  • Public services (including health, social care, benefits, public housing services, police and courts).

It protects us all. We all have at least four of the nine characteristics by the Equality Act. These are known as protected characteristics (PCs), and are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, sex, sexual orientation, race and religion or belief.

The Act prohibits:

  • Direct discrimination –  treating a person less well because of a protected characteristic (that they have, are assumed to have, or are treated as if they have)
  • Indirect discrimination  –  a rule, policy or practice that applies to a wider group of people generally but which has the effect of disadvantaging people with a particular protected characteristic, and it cannot be justified i.e. shown to be intended to meet a legitimate objective in a fair, balanced and reasonable way
  • Harassment  – unwanted behaviour related to a protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them
  • Victimisation  – treating a person less well because they have made or supported a claim about discrimination – or they are thought to be doing so.

And places proactive duties in key areas:

  • Duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people – most organisations like employers, shops, local authorities and schools must take positive steps to remove the barriers disabled people face
  • Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) – in their day to day decision making and actions, as well as at strategic level, public authorities and their staff must give due regard to (consider) how they can ensure non-discrimination, advance equality of opportunity, and foster good relations. The PSED applies to most public bodies in Great Britain including government departments local councils, the NHS, education authorities and the police. It also applies to voluntary or private organisations if they are carrying out public functions on behalf of public bodies. See Campaigning, Advocacy and Policy for examples of the PSED in practice.

The Equality Act allows:

  • Positive action. Positive action is about employers, service providers and public bodies taking action to overcome or minimise disadvantages that people experience related to a protected characteristic. See the Providing Services module for examples of this in practice.

Human Rights

Human rights are basic rights that belong to us all simply because we are human. They embody key values in our society; such as fairness, dignity, equality and respect.

Human rights can make sure all organisations provide high quality services that meet everyone’s needs as well as possible. They’re an important source of protection for us all; including people who face abuse, neglect, inequality and isolation.

Human rights give us power and enable us to speak up and persuade organisations to improve their services (and prevent problems happening in the first place), and to challenge problems when things do go wrong.

Human rights can help our organisations achieve their aims in two main ways

  • Use human rights laws to improve services and challenge poor practice in public services
  • Use a human rights-based approach to developing and improving their own services, or public services.

Human Rights Laws

Human rights are legally protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the UK played a major role in developing, and which was signed by the UK in 1951.

The Human Rights Act 1998 came into effect in 2000. It brings the ECHR into law in the UK and means that UK citizens can bring human rights cases to UK courts (with the backup of being able to go to the European Court if needed).

The Human Rights Act places all public authorities under a duty to respect human rights in all they do. Public authorities are any organisation that operates as part of the public sector, such as the NHS, social services, the police, local authorities, libraries. It includes any person or organisation – including private organisations – which performs ‘functions of a public nature’,’ such as private home and residential care providers whose services are funded or arranged by the local authority.

Human Rights Laws in Practice

The main rights your organisation could to use to help the people you work with and for are set out in the table. They’re taken from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Human Rights Act made the ECHR part of UK law and made it possible to go to a UK court to enforce these human rights.

ECHR article and meaning

How it can apply

2 – Right to life.

Everyone has the right to have their life protected and not taken away by others.

The state can only take away someone’s life in very limited circumstances.

Public authorities must take appropriate steps to protect people’s lives. This includes where people’s lives are known to be at risk (from suicide, from an ex-partner).

People shouldn’t be refused life-saving treatment because of their age, disability, ethnicity or other status (Article 2 in combination with Article 14 – see below).

The NHS should consider people’s right to life when considering whether to fund life-saving and life-prolonging treatment for illnesses such as cancer.

People need to be given enough to eat and drink whilst in the care of an institution.

People should not have ‘do not resuscitate’ orders placed on their file without their consent, or their family’s consent if they can’t express their own view.

People should not be discharged from hospital if they can’t look after themselves, there is no care in place, and their life would be at risk as a result.

In the event of a suspicious or unexplained death, an effective inquest must be carried out.

3 – Prohibition of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Everyone has the absolute right not to be tortured or to be treated in an inhuman or degrading way.

People should not be abused in any way, and should be protected from physical or mental abuse.

The Police should investigate abuse.

People should not be neglected, eg left in soiled, unchanged sheets for long periods

People should be supported to eat or drink and helped with other basic care needs if they are unable to do them unaided.

People should not experience poor conditions such as lack of access to healthcare in institutional settings such as prisons or residential homes.

Excessive force should not be used to restrain people.

Severe race discrimination could amount to degrading treatment.

Where people raise real concerns about inhuman or degrading treatment, a public authority must investigate.

4 – Prohibition of slavery and forced labour.

Everyone has the right not to be treated as a slave or to perform forced labour.

People should not be trafficked, kept in debt bondage, or forced to work for nothing.

The Police should investigate reports of people being held in servitude.

People should not be exploited for the work they do.

People should have reasonable rest, working hours and fair pay.

People should not have pay (including holiday pay) withheld without good reason.

5 – Right to liberty.

Everyone has the right to personal freedom and security.

No one can be deprived of their liberty except in certain explicit and finite circumstances eg being suspected of a crime, or if someone lacks mental capacity to consent to care or treatment and it is in their best interests to deprive them of their liberty.

If arrested, people should be informed promptly, in a language they understand, of the reasons for the arrest and the charge against them.

People should not be locked in a room, cell or have any extreme form of restriction placed on movement except in certain strictly defined circumstances. This applies to people of all ages including children.

People living in residential homes should not be made to go to places they don’t want to go to, just because it is convenient for the care provider.

If people lack capacity to give consent they should not be sent to a care home or hospital unless the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DOLS) procedure has been followed.

If people have been detained following DOLS there should be a periodic independent check to ensure this continues to be in their best interests.

Any deprivation of liberty must be lawful, proportionate and continue for no longer than is necessary.

6 – Right to a fair trial or hearing.

Everyone has the right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

People have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

When public authorities make a decision against a person, such as refusing them social security benefits or to evict them, people have the right to appeal the decision.

People taking a case to a court or tribunal have the right to present their case and evidence under conditions that do not place them at a severe disadvantage (eg they have to be able to see the papers referred to by the other side).

These rights can only be limited in specific and finite circumstances.

8 – Right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence.

Everyone has the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence.

This right can be limited in certain circumstances such as to protect public safety, prevent crime or protect the rights and freedoms of others, but only if necessary, lawful and proportionate.

People’s personal information should be kept confidential  (unless they agree to share it) and they should have access to their personal records kept by a public authority.

People should be able to make choices about their daily life.

People’s personal and sexual relationships should be respected.

Older and disabled people should be supported to stay in their own home or with their family or partner if they choose to. If in residential homes, they should not be so far away from family that their right to family life is breached.

People should be able to make choices even if they live in a residential home or hospital.

They should be able to have a fulfilling and active life, participate in the community, and access community services.

Care homes and hospitals should not interfere with people’s emails, letters, phone calls and other communications.

Public authorities should fulfill trans people’s right to respect for private life by treating them in their chosen gender.

9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and to practice these beliefs alone or with others.

People have an absolute right to hold or change their religion or belief.

Public authorities and private services providing public functions try to accommodate people’s practice of their religion or belief, where possible.

Hospitals, prisons, care homes should take reasonable steps to meet religious dietary  needs and facilities for worship as appropriate.

This right can be limited in certain circumstances, if the limitation necessary, lawful and proportionate.

10 – Freedom of expression.

Everyone has the right to have and express their own opinions.

They also have the right to receive opinions and information.

This right can be limited in certain circumstances such as to prevent disorder or a crime, if the limitation necessary, lawful and proportionate.

11 – Freedom of assembly and association. Everyone can protest in a peaceful way.

Everyone can associate or meet with others such as by joining a political party or trade union.

This right can be limited in certain circumstances if the limitation is necessary, lawful and proportionate.

14 – The right not to be discriminated against.

Everyone has the right not to be discriminated against because of race, disability, gender or any other status in the application of any other ECHR rights.

This right can be limited only in certain circumstances, such as the protection of public safety, prevention of crime, and only if the limitation is necessary, lawful and proportionate.

Public authorities must not discriminate against anyone in the application of another ECHR rights, unless they can show the act in question is justified for being a legitimate aim that is proportionate and necessary. This means people can use article 14 if they can show that while trying to exercise their rights under another article, such as article 2 or 8, they have been discriminated against.

People should not be refused medical treatment simply for example because of their age, HIV status, or ethnicity.

If people do not speak English they should be provided with an interpreter so they can participate in court proceedings, and make choices about health and social care.

People should not be treated badly at work, by the courts, or in hospitals or care homes, because for example they are have a mental health condition, or are gay, or practice a certain religion.

Children and young people should not be bullied in schools or care homes because of being girls or boys, or because of their ethnicity.

Right to education
(article 2 of the First protocol)
No student should be denied the right to education.

Children and adults should be able to access educational services that already exist.

The education should be effective – adequate and appropriate.

This right can be limited in certain circumstances. For example, children should only be excluded from school if the exclusion is necessary and proportionate.

Human Rights-Based Approach

A human rights-based approach takes the principles of human rights (rather than the specific laws) and applies them in practice. People’s rights are put at the heart of how things are done.

One way to use a human-rights base approach is to apply the PANEL principles:

  • Participation – people should be involved in decisions that affect their rights
  • Accountability – there should be monitoring of how people’s rights are being affected, and remedies when things go wrong
  • Non-Discrimination and Equality – all forms of discrimination must be prohibited, prevented and eliminated. People who face the biggest barriers to realising their rights should be prioritised.
  • Empowerment – everyone should understand their rights, and be fully supported to take part in developing policy and practices that affect their lives
  • Legality – approaches should be grounded in the legal rights that are set out in domestic and international laws.

Take a look at the Scottish Human Rights Commission’s guide to PANEL (pdf) for some examples of how organisations have used these principles in practice.

A different way to use a human rights-based approach is for developing standards for day-to-day behaviour. This improves customer experience and outcomes. You can find more information – including a case study from Macmillan – in the Providing Services module.

Develop knowledge, skills and an evidence base throughout your organisation.

One key source of knowledge on equality and human rights is people with lived experience of the issues. And remember – knowledge, skills and resources in your organisation can be quickly lost if only one person holds them.


One: Work out what knowledge and skills are needed to progress your commitment to equality and human rights.

  • What are the implications of your chosen priorities? Do these suggest knowledge or skills your organisation needs to develop?
  • What different types of work do your staff do – and what equality and human rights knowledge and skills they need for their work?
  • What more general knowledge and skills could be useful? This might include your legal obligations under equality and human rights laws. Or inclusive leadership and practice training.
  • Review knowledge and skills already held in the organisation.

This exercise can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. It can be dome through team discussion, staff and volunteer surveys, or through Board review and decision.

Two: Identify the most accessible and useful ways of building the equality and human rights knowledge and skills base you need. 

  • Organise opportunities for sharing the knowledge and skills held within your organisation between trustees, staff and volunteers. For example, at team meetings, lunch and learn events, or staff days.
  • Seek support from or partnerships with equality and human rights specialists or other organisations with the knowledge and skills you need.
  • Produce and identify learning materials for staff and volunteers – and give them time to read and discuss them.
  • Provide training and other development opportunities. Local infrastructure organisations might be able to help you to access training. Time and money spent on training is an investment in your organisation’s future.
  • Identify at least one person to keep up-to-date with national developments with email newsletters (like our newsletter), or those that focus on regional or local issues and training opportunities. Feed this information into the organisation.

 Building Your Evidence Base

Collecting relevant information from internal and external sources can enhance the effective implementation of this framework. It will help you assess your current performance on equality and human rights and plan further improvements.


One: Identify the information you need for this evidence base, based on the priorities and objectives you’ve set. This could include data on the presence and participation of your priority groups, demographic information, or service outcomes by group.

Two: Identify the best means of gathering this information.

  • This could include monitoring and feedback forms, surveys and sections within existing forms or surveys
  • Ensure data protection processes are followed where necessary.

Three: Develop good practice for demographic monitoring:

  • Agree a policy for monitoring information collected for equality and human rights purposes
  • Communicate the monitoring policy to all Board members, staff, volunteers and service users – and take and address any feedback
  • Develop monitoring processes, including paper or online forms or automated telephone surveys. You don’t need to ask everyone all the time. You can use periodic sampling as long as it gives statistically relevant data. Booster samples can help get an accurate picture.
  • Analyse results on a regular basis, of discussing this analysis within your organisation, and applying the results to ongoing work
  • Publish an annual summary of the anonymised monitoring information and trends each year, with a report of actions taken. This could be part of an annual report.

Four: Information gathering must be voluntary and confidential. People should be clear what your purpose is in gathering that information – and the information gathered should not be used for other purposes. Poor monitoring practices can damage your organisation’s reputation.

Five: Support people who cannot personally complete a monitoring form. This may be because of literacy, language, learning or physical difficulties.

  • Some barriers can be overcome by translating the forms
  • Other people may need personal support in completing the form. Take care that the voluntary nature of the exercise is sustained and that privacy is maintained.

Six: If you’re using demographic monitoring, be aware of the legal implications.

  • Equality monitoring data is classed as ‘sensitive personal information’ under the Data Protection Act 1998. This data can be gathered and used – but must be collected, processed, stored, analysed and disposed of in line with legal requirements
  • A legal claim under the Equality Act 2010 could be taken if someone believes information from monitoring has been used in a discriminatory way
  • There are risks of criminal prosecution (under the Gender Recognition Act 2004) if information on the gender identity of someone with a Gender Recognition Certificate is released without their express consent.

Case Study: Equality Act 2010: handbook for advisers (pdf)

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