Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

Jo Swinson MP writes…Equality is about more than ticking boxes

by Ian Shires on January 18, 2013

Published on Liberal Democrat Voice By  | Thu 17th January 2013 – 11:14 am

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) would never have become a valued and respected national institution if it was allowed to continue on the path it was on. Labour’s tired old way of working was turning equalities into a burden. When people heard the word equality they also heard bureaucracy and red-tape. Instead of being about fairness it was more about frustration.

If Labour’s method of ticking boxes and filling out forms led to equality, then why did they leave behind a society with so much inequality across the board? Twenty percent wage gaps between women and men, nonexistent social mobility, unfair pensions, and a poorly funded education system that let so many children down. The way to tackle these issues in order to create a liberal, equal society is certainly not with careless, short term thinking – equality can’t be brought about solely in bureaucratic ways. Equality Impact Assessments (EIA) exemplify this: popular because they’re the easiest way for departments to comply with equality duties. EIAs are not under threat from the Coalition Government but they are a good example of why we need to move beyond a slapdash exercise at the end of the process and make sure equality is rooted in from the beginning.

Clause 56 to 59 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will make a number of changes to the EHRC. For those of you with concerns, like Nick has said the Equality Act isn’t being watered down and it isn’t going anywhere. What we are doing is redefining the role of the EHRC and focussing its efforts so that it becomes a strong independent body. It was bogged down with so many vague and unnecessary provisions. It had never submitted a clean set of books when we came to office. It was criticised by both the Public Accounts Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In March 2011, we set out proposals to reform the EHRC and almost 1,000 responses were received with most people unhappy with its performance. So we’re making changes to transform the EHRC into an effective, financially accountable body that Liberal Democrats can be proud of.

And there is already much work on equalities to be proud of. Our record on equality speaks for itself. We have established the first ever Inter-Ministerial Group on Equality; legislated to allow civil partnerships on religious premises; published the first ever transgender action plan; introduced support for disabled people seeking access to elected office; established the Women’s Business Council; provided support for women to set up and grow their own businesses; taken action to promote equal pay and championed equality on company boards. Not to mention Nick’s work on social mobility, Steve’s pension reform and Sarah’s pupil premium. Much good work has already been done and of course more remains to do, not least delivering equal marriage – a momentous step for Liberal Democrats who have long campaigned for equal rights.

As Liberal Democrats we don’t think equalities should be about ticking-boxes and regulatory hoops – it’s too important to be relegated to an administrative duty. Advancing LGBT, gender, disability and race equality will only be achieved by putting equalities at the heart of every department. A 21st century inclusive approach with less rules and more fairness.

From the policies that we adopt at conference to the measures we put in place at council level and Westminster, equality should be embedded in everything we do. That’s what party members and voters expect from our party.

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  1. Martin Frost says:

    Motion recently rejected for inclusion for debate at the LD spring conference.

    Conference notes:
    a) the report of the Liberal Democrat Task Force on Race Equality into race equality in education and employment

    b) The acknowledgement in the Coalition Agreement that too many children are held back because of their social background, and too many people of all ages held back because of their gender, race, religion or sexuality and in particular that “We need concerted government action to tear down these barriers and help to build a fairer society.”

    c) the commitment to transparency in the Government Equality Strategy,“Shining a light on inequalities and giving individuals and local communities the tools and information they need to challenge organisations that are not offering fair opportunities”;

    d) The statement by Nick Clegg that: “Our equalities legislation is considered the best in Europe and has transformed discrimination in the workplace. The Equality Act is a cornerstone of the UK’s culture of fairness. It isn’t there for employers to pick and choose from. And it is not going away.”

    Conference notes with concern that:
    a) While BAME educational attainment has improved, Black Caribbean and Pakistani pupils remain below average, with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children a long way behind;
    b) The abolition of ringfencing of the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant has led to a collapse in services such as provision of teaching of English for Speakers of Other Languages;
    c) The Dept for Education’s statistical evidence shows high rates of exclusion of Black Caribbean boys and that this is highest in schools where they are a small minority;
    d) BAME students continue to be under-represented in Russell Group universities;
    e) There is continued under-representation of BAME teachers especially in senior roles;
    f) No matter how great the achievements at school and university, the BAME workforce continues to face discrimination particularly in the private sector;
    g) BAME applicants for advertised jobs have a 4% chance of discrimination from public sector employers on the basis of their name, and a 35% chance from private sector employers, according to a study published by the Dept for Work and Pensions;
    h) BAME pupils and the workforce remain subject to stereotypical assumptions about their abilities.

    Conference believes that:
    a) the move by Labour and the Conservatives to the ‘holistic’ approach to equality has allowed governments to pick and choose their favoured equality strands, at great cost to ethnic minorities;
    b) that the Conservatives’ attempt to weaken the Equality Act and to narrow the remit and slash the budget of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is in breach of the Coalition Agreement.

    Accordingly conference calls upon Liberal Democrats in government to:

    a) Reassert the importance of addressing race discrimination and inequality and of each equality strand having its own programme of action;
    b) Reintroduce ringfencing of the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant;
    c) Ensure that the school curriculum reflects the diversity of the country;
    d) Introduce a Statutory Code of Practice for schools;
    e) Implement the Children’s Commissioner’s report into the prevention of and positive alternatives to exclusion, and reinstate the right of appeals panels to order the return of unjustly expelled children to school;
    f) Require all universities to be fully transparent about all their selection criteria;
    g) Oppose Conservative attempts to weaken the Equality Act and in particular to oppose any weakening of the Public Sector Equality Duty;
    h) Ensure the independence and effectiveness of the EHRC by opposing Conservative attempts to narrow its remit and slash its budget;
    i) Take action to improve race equality beyond the public sector by
    i) requiring all private sector and third sector organisations in receipt of public money, licences or other benefits to undertake meaningful equality monitoring and forward it to the relevant public authority, which shall in turn publish this data for each organisation by name, annually; and
    ii) extending the public sector equality duty to the private sector.

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