Public Service Reform
Across the board, publicly-funded, comprehensive and statutory public services, to which all citizens have an entitlement, are in the process of extensive and significant reform. This process was initiated by the previous government, but the Coalition Government intends to extended the process placing contracts for public services with private (‘second sector’) and voluntary (‘third sector’) organisations. These measures are partly being adopted as a method of reducing government spending, but also as a means of citizen engagement as a part of the Government's campaign for a 'Big Society’.
The great majority of public service provision has hitherto been in the hands of secular bodies (public or through contractors), and there is no evidence that the public is dissatisfied with this. On the other hand, the main example of non-secular public service provision is state-funded religious schools, to which notably as many as four out of five people are hostile. However, as part of its marketisation of public services other than education, such as the welfare and employment, health, social care and housing services, the Government has been specifically promoting contracts with religious organisations to provide public services.
Religious organisations have important exemptions from the Equality Act 2006 and from the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 and from the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, which allow them to discriminate in various ways, even when working under contract to provide a public service. For example, the exemptions from employment equality legislation allow religious employers to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief and of sexual orientation not just in future recruitment but 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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