It is important to remember that people are not defined by any singular characteristic. Social determinants such as ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexual orientation combine and intersect to affect health and wellbeing, often varying across the life-course.   Everyone has at least five protected characteristics.

A narrow focus on one aspect of an individual´s or a group´s identity may therefore work to the detriment of understanding and responding to the reality of their lives and experiences.

For the purposes of the Act, “race” includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins. People who have or share characteristics of colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins can be described as belonging to a particular racial group. A racial group can be made up of two or more different racial groups. Colour includes being black or white and Nationality includes being a British, Australian or Swiss citizen.

Ethnic or national origins include being from a Roma background or of Chinese heritage.  A racial group could be “black Britons” which would encompass those people who are both black and who are British citizens.

Those who share the protected characteristic of Race are protected from four different types of discrimination, i.e., direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation, as discussed below.

Direct Race discrimination is where someone is unfairly treated because of their race. This occurs when a person is able to show that they have been treated less favourably on racial grounds than others in similar circumstances.

Indirect discrimination is where a rule or practice or a criterion is applied to everyone, but particularly disadvantages people who share a racial characteristic but which cannot be justified.

Harassment is unwanted conduct which violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person. In this case the harassment is based on a person’s race or ethnic or national origin.

Victimisation is where someone who has made a complaint of discrimination or harassment or supported someone else’s complaint is victimised as a consequence.

Furthermore, there are two supplementary provisions that protect people from direct discrimination or harassment. These include:

  • Discrimination by Perception – e.g. where a person is discriminated against or harassed because s/he is mistakenly thought to share a protected characteristic such as race.
  • Discrimination by Association – e.g. where a person is discriminated against or harassed because s/he is associated with a person who has a protected

Some of the most vulnerable groups in the UK in recent years are refugees, asylum seekers and Gypsies/Travellers. Gypsies/Travellers are recognised ethnic groups and protected by the Equality Act.

A refugee is a person who has been granted leave to stay in the UK under the Refugee Convention and an asylum seeker is someone whose application for protection to the UK Government is pending (Gordon et al, 2010).

Useful links: 

Equality and Human Rights Commission: