Social Status Discrimination
Since 2002 the HPLC has been lobbying for changes to Victorian equal opportunity law to make it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of their social status.
The HPLC takes social status to include homelessness, employment status and being in receipt of social security benefits. Remarkably these attributes are not protected attributes under the current Equal Opportunity Act 1995 (Vic), which means that it is currently lawful to discriminate against someone if they are homeless.
Consultations conducted by the HPLC over the last 5 years have shown that discrimination on the basis of social status is widespread, systemic and often hidden. Discrimination exacerbates social inequality by further disadvantaging those who are already disadvantaged.
The HPLC's research and experience has also demonstrated the negative and pervasive effects of discrimination against homeless people. A 2006 survey found that 60 per cent of homeless people have been discriminated against by goods and services providers including accommodation, education and health services. There is also evidence that such discrimination leads to feelings of exclusion, disempowerment and hopelessness.
A new Equal Opportunity Act
The HPLC welcomes the new Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (the new Act), despite the absence of ‘homelessness’ and ‘irrelevant criminal record’ from the list of protected attributes. The new Act was passed by Parliament on 15 April 2010 and will come into effect by August 2011, repealing the current Equal Opportunity Act 1995.
The new Act aims to stamp out entrenched and systematic discrimination against disadvantaged groups and assist Victorian organisations to change discriminatory policies and practices. The government has committed to protecting these groups, and the HPLC will work with the government to ensure such protections are introduced.
The Attorney-General wrote to the HPLC in August 2010 about the recent changes to the new Act. The Attorney-General acknowledged that ‘discrimination on the basis of homelessness is an important issue’, and that the Government is ‘committed to providing practical and effective ways of reducing homelessness and assisting people who are homeless’.
The new Act further strengthens the role of the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The HPLC will be looking at how the HPLC can use the Commission to better assist our clients.
You can find out more about the discrimination faced by people experiencing homelessness by viewing a video of people’s stories.
"James Farrell, manager and principal lawyer at the Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic, said his service regularly had homeless clients who were discriminated against. 'We commonly have clients approaching us facing discrimination in areas of accommodation, employment and provision of medical services.'"