Listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this week, I was somewhat surprised to hear that it had taken a Committee of MPs a three month inquiry, which included an online consultation and oral evidence, to conclude that a large number of the population are not satisfied with their (their own, not the MPs’, though probably that too) body image. I was even more surprised to hear that one of the conclusions of the report was that Government should consider whether or not a person’s appearance should become a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act.
Perhaps more by accident than by design, given the essential foolishness of the suggestion, the report does raise some serious points. For example, even just limiting “appearance” for these purposes to weight alone, it quoted a study in which 90% of HR people surveyed said that they would hire a ‘normal’ weight individual over an obese person.
Whilst the natural reaction to these suggestions is to cry ‘Nanny state gone mad’ and head for the hills with a family pack of Jaffa Cakes, this would be to ignore a serious point that the report also completely overlooks. If a person suffers from an eating disorder, depression or some other illness that causes them to overeat, or even from that increasingly common ‘underactive thyroid’, then they may already have a protected characteristic and be safe from discrimination. All of the above could potentially be a disability, or signs of a disability. Therefore by refusing to hire someone, or bullying someone, because they’re on the chubby side, you could in theory be treating someone less favourably due to the outward manifestation of a disability, which is, of course, disability discrimination.
In summary – Government holds long, expensive and ultimately pointless enquiry that floats a reform in law which is totally unworkable in the real world and largely duplicates existing law anyway. Plus ça change …..