We are now getting used to Boris Johnson’s blustering empty slogans on current problems – whether it’s Covid 19 or Brexit. What I hadn’t realised until today it is obviously standard Cabinet speak for this government – as Liz Truss, the international trade secretary and women and equalities minister, has just done the same.
Her much trailed speech at the Centre for Policy Studies was full of crowd pleasing right wing jibes bashing the Left and talking of so called unrepresentative groups campaigning for black and ethnic minorities, gays and women but getting nowhere.
But when it came to what she wanted to offer it was pretty thin gruel. She is moving the Equalities Hub from London to the North and asking the Social Mobility Commission to research the geographical disparities across the country. Wow!
motherhood and apple pie
And some of the speech read – forgive me for being sexist – like ” motherhood and apple pie”.
“Now is the time to root the equality debate in the real concerns people face, delivering quality housing, cutting commute times, improving public transport, ending discrimination in our offices, factories and shop floors, and improving our schools so every child has the same chances in life,” she opined.
Politicians have been spouting these platitudes for decades. No one is going to stand on a platform of let’s build a new generation of slums, slash public transport and cut school budgets – even if the result of some policies -under Tory governments- has been to do this.
The truth is we already know what has happened to the North and the South West without any more research. I know having looked at life expectancy figures that people in posh Kensington live much longer than those in Blackpool. I have been to Sunderland and Skelmersdale and seen the narrow life chances of people who live there. And by the way if the Tories are so worried about the North- why did both places miss out on Robert Jenrick’s largesse in his town fund scheme- in favour of Cheadle and Southport ( both Tory marginal seats unlike the former two).
It is what she going to do about this that matters. Her solution seems to be that rugged individualism will solve the lot and miraculously lift the masses out of years of deprivation. Yet to have a big impact it has to be a big partnership involving local councils, communities and diverse interest groups. She seems to suggest that one compartmentalises equality -looking at social and economic class – and ignoring whether they are black, gay, women or white working class males. In a bizarre sort of way her analysis is almost Marxist – though she would be a million miles away from his solution.
She also doesn’t seem to know that she already possesses the power to do this under the Equality Act.
One reaction from Nell Andrew, GMB National Equality and Inclusion Officer ( no doubt one of those Lefties she doesn’t like) was:
“If Liz Truss is serious in her ‘new fight for fairness’, she could start by enacting Section 1 of the Equality Act that was passed in Parliament 10 years ago and which successive Tory administrations have refused to act on. This would force public institutions to adopt effective polices to reduce the inequalities that result from class or socio-economic barriers.
“A drastic move away from recognising peoples lived experience, ignoring qualitive evidence, is a dangerous use of smoke and mirrors to attack equality and human rights legislation.
“All major equality and employment laws came about because of workers and communities organising around issues like racism, sexism and homophobia; fighting for more equal rights for everyone. “
Dr Meghan Campbell, Deputy-Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, and an expert on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,(CEDAW) put it this way:
“Today’s statement appears to fracture equality between identity characteristics (race, gender etc) and socio-economic equality. The water-tight division between different types of equality is both misleading and highly strained. There are complex interactions between race, gender, disability, migration status, geography, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and poverty. Historically marginalised groups have higher rates of poverty and political and social exclusion. “
“While there are some encouraging aspects focusing in on geographic equality and poverty, but these should not be pitted against race or gender equality as equality is not a zero-sum game.
” Poverty cannot be fully addressed without transforming the institutions and norms that perpetuate poverty against women and people of colour. The statement seems to be moving back to a very individualised vision of equality that ignores how larger structures, norms and institutions can trap people into disadvantage. “
So I am not impressed. If I am very cynical just a week ago she as equalities minister got advance warning that the UN CEDAW committee in Geneva has decided to seek the UK’s response on discrimination in relation to women as the Supreme Court decides whether to hear the Back To 60 pension discrimination case. I wonder if this among other matters prompted her rushed public response.