Speak to Equality and Diversity Forum today, wearing my hat of Liberal Democrat Equalities spokesperson.
What I am trying to persuade the world of, in regard to the Single Equalities Act, is threefold.
First – discrimination more difficult – and the particular suggestion I make today is for ‘name blind’ employment applications, i.e. keeping the names of applications hidden from those who process job applications.
Why? Well, to take personal experience as an example – two of my interns who had non-Anglo Saxon names applied to loads and loads of jobs – not even getting an interview. After they worked for me – and having worked for an MP on the CV – they both quickly got great jobs.
The problem is that having a non-Anglo Saxon name on your application form can mean being thrown on the reject pile because of low level discrimination. Once through to interview (or possessed of something extra on the CV to overcome this ‘hurdle’) – well the chemistry between humans then takes over – for better or worse. So – name blind employment application – probably using National Insurance numbers – is an idea we are looking at.
Second – strengthening legislation against discrimination. We have had enough legislation on crime to last well into the future from New Labour – and the legislative wand is clearly not the answer to everything. However, the courts do need a bit of muscle as currently they cannot award punitive damages. This can mean damage awards are far too small to really have an impact on changing behaviour.
And third – that anyone who wants to perpetuate discrimination has to have it explicitly as an exemption. If you want to discriminate – make your argument, and make it out in the open. That to my mind is the best way to address such issues – and I’m sure some powerful cases will be made for some exemptions – but let’s have the debate and make a decision rather than let things slip through on the quiet or because that’s how they’ve always been done.
And a parting shot for the CEHR. I think the Commission has the potential to be an incredibly powerful force for good. Trevor Phillips – its chair – is remarkable in the way he can and has shaped the nation’s thinking with his accurate and memorable soundbites such as ‘sleepwalking into segregation’, the ‘race cold war’ and so on. But I would argue that the Commission should be given more resource so that it can drive through substantive change.