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Education in the media: 10 August 2016

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Equalities, Universities

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Today’s news review looks at incorrect claims about the Equality Act and stories about student finance.

Sexual harassment at work

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Everyday Sexism Project have published research that reported 52% of women have experienced unwanted behaviour at work including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes.

The Government is absolutely clear that sexual harassment in any form is entirely unacceptable and employers must take steps to tackle it wherever it occurs.

The story has been covered today by the Today Programme, Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast and by the Guardian as well as the BBC’s website.

The Guardian’s copy quotes shadow women and equalities minister Angela Rayner who incorrectly claims that the Government has scrapped Section 40 of the Equality Act, which states employers must not harass employees.

  • This is not true. Employees still use this law to hold employers to account. The only change made to Section 40 removed red tape that left employers liable for harassment committed by third parties. These provisions were considered unnecessary regulation that hindered business growth and the economic recovery.
  • The TUC found that overall 7% of employees that had experienced harassment said this had come from third parties, with the vast majority of cases perpetrated by employers. This is still too many, but there are other ways for such issues to be tackled. Imposing heavy regulation on all employers is not always the answer.

There are also alternative legal routes that employees can pursue if they consider that they have been subject to repeated harassment by a third party.

The alternative legal routes are:

  • general harassment prohibition in section 26 of the Equality Act 2010;
  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997 where the harassment causes the employee alarm or distress; and
  • constructive dismissal where the harassment is such that the employee feels no alternative to quitting the job.

An employee who feels that they have been harassed at work may contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which provides free authoritative and impartial advice to employees and employers on such matters.

A Government spokesperson said:

No one should experience harassment or abuse of any kind in the workplace – the law on this is very clear and employers must take swift action to tackle this issue. Section 40 has not been scrapped and any employee who experiences harassment is protected by the Equality Act – regardless of who the perpetrator is.

Student finance

Both the Money Charity and Aviva published stories claiming that student debt is becoming unsustainable to some people. These have been covered widely today, including by the BBC, Guardian, the Mail and the Independent.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - the international, intergovernmental organisation founded to promote policies that improve social and economic wellbeing - has backed our student funding system’s sustainability. It prevents those from poor backgrounds being precluded from higher education and doesn’t penalise the small proportion who are unable to pay off their loans.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

As the OECD has recognised, our student funding system is sustainable with a relatively high threshold before borrowers have to repay their loan. It removes financial barriers for anyone hoping to study - with record numbers of disadvantaged backgrounds going to university – and any outstanding debt is written off after 30 years.


Graduates also enjoy a considerable wage premium over non-graduates and repay their loans in line with income - at a rate of 9% of earnings above £21,000.

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