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The Aliens Act, 1905, the first official restriction of immigration by people not of British nationality, was designed to restrict the immigration of Jews fleeing from persecution in eastern Europe.Roman Catholics were unable to stand for parliament until 1829, despite their substantial numbers in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; or Jews until 1859.As the Equality Bill goes through parliament we should reflect on why it is now possible for a government credibly to propose a statutory duty on public authorities to address the inequalities experienced by members of their workforce and the communities due to their gender, race, religion, age disability, sexual orientation or socio-economic difference, and to ban discrimination on many of these grounds.Even at the end of the Second World War most of these issues were not seriously regarded as dimensions of inequality.Older and disabled people have always been among the poorest groups in society, discrimination against them largely taken for granted.In his influential and largely humane report of 1942, William Beveridge could comment, without facing public criticism: 'it is dangerous to be in any way lavish to old age until adequate provision has been assured for all vital needs, such as prevention of disease and the adequate nutrition of the young'.The organisations now known as MENCAP and MIND were founded in 1946 to campaign for improved treatment of mentally ill people and those who were then known as 'backward children'.But all these groups were small and marginal in 1945. When Attlee's Labour government was elected in 1945 it prioritised economic inequality over other social forms because the facts of mass poverty were so stark.
The Race Relations Act, 1965, set up the Race Relations Board to investigate complaints of unlawful discrimination, changed in 1968 to the Community Relations Commission with extended powers.
A response to another old demand for gender equality, the Equal Pay Act, came in 1970.
In the same year the Chronically Sick and Disabled Act required local authorities to register disabled people and publicise services for them.
The Gay Liberation Front, formed 1970, did the same, for the first time feeling able to claim publicly that they were ' Good As You'.
The very existence of these organisations, and their increasing visibility in the 1970s, suggests that the previous lobbying of their quieter predecessors had had a certain success and that cultural shifts were in progress, internationally, which gave them all the confidence to 'come out'.