Any allergens in there? Photo: Flickr/Alpha
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Five new laws that may have escaped your notice in 2014

Which pieces of new legislation did you miss last year?

Every year thousands of new laws are introduced. Some of these are well publicised and debated, such as the recent changes to the rules on pornography, but others slip under the radar. Many are quite important though, and affect all kinds of people.

Here are just five of the laws introduced in 2014 that you may have missed. You might find they affect you after all.

Tighter leash

On May 13, changes to the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act came into force, in response to a number of high profile cases of dogs attacking children.

It’s now a criminal offence for the person in charge of a dog or its owner to allow it to be dangerously out of control in a public place. Section three has also been amended to make incidents that occur on private property a criminal offence too. That includes both the dog owner’s home and garden and someone else’s home.

Still to come are bigger fines for owners who fail to prevent dog attacks and compulsory micro-chipping from 2016.

Rip your CDs

It is now finally legal to rip CDs and to transfer music from your CDs to your iPod. What you’ve been doing for the past decade illegally, you can now do legally (if you still have any CDs, that is).

The changes made to the 1988 Copyright, Design and Patents Act, which came into force on June 1, are a classic case of the law being rather slow to catch up with reality.

Section 28B has been added to the act, which allows individuals to make personal copies of work onto CDs or digital files if they were lawfully acquired for their private use in the first place. These amendments to the law do not apply to computer programs and they do not make it lawful to copy CDs and give them to friends or family.

What’s in that bap?

New allergen information rules were introduced in December as a result of EU regulations. Anywhere that sells unpackaged food, such as sandwich bars, bakeries and takeaways, must disclose information on whether that food contains any of 14 listed allergens. This includes gluten, eggs, fish, nuts and milk.

The information can be provided to customers by staff orally or in writing.

This has clear implications for businesses. They now need to train all staff to ensure that they can provide the required information to customers. The rules are also an important step forward in allowing those who suffer from food allergies to buy unpackaged food without fear of suffering a potentially fatal reaction.

Off the record

Reforms to the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act came into force in March. These loosened requirements on people having to disclose minor offences to potential employers.

Under the new system, an offender sentenced to between 30 months and four years in prison would see their conviction spent after the length of their sentence plus seven years. So after those seven years they would not have to reveal their conviction when applying for a job. Before the reforms, the same offender’s convictions would never have been spent so this is a positive move for people who don’t offend again and try to contribute to society by finding work.

Talk it out

Since May, anyone wishing to make a claim in an employment tribunal has to first make an early conciliation notification the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

The aim of early conciliation is to settle employment disputes quickly and cost-effectively without parties needing to attend employment tribunal hearings. If conciliation fails then claimants may proceed to lodge a tribunal claim.

Between April and September, more than 37,000 cases went through the process. While the system is evidently being used, there is some concern that the service has not been given enough money to handle the ever-increasing workload.

So 2014 may have seen many people get hot and bothered about the law, from pornography to government snooping, some people have come out better. Coelliacs can order a sandwich in safety and reformed offenders won’t be dogged by their past for the rest of their lives.

And you can finally get rid of that stack of CDs collecting dust on your shelf.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

By Siobhan Weare, Lecturer in Law, Lancaster University

Photo: Getty Images
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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.