So – the long, long, long awaited Equalities Bill has arrived. As usual, media first – Parliament second. Published last Friday but embargoed until Monday – presumably so other parties can’t get hands on it to comment. I thought Harriet Harman was better than that – but given her office has refused to brief me or meet with me – should have known.
The man who wrote the book on equalities – Lord Lester – will be leading on the Bill in the Lords for the Liberal Democrats – but in the Commons, that job falls to me.
I notice that the Government has made a huge fanfare over its stance on pay audits. From the media it sounds as if mandatory pay audits will be introduced for large firms, but I suspect from the details it will be the same as before – voluntary for five years and then possibly mandatory after that. We will see when the details are finally unveiled to one and all!
Mandatory pay audits would be a really effective way of adding pressure to end discrimination in pay between men and women – as you can see from the example of Cambridge University. Their audit highlighted some big differences in pay – and so gave me the grounds to refer them to the Equalities Commission whilst also causing the university to hared down to Parliament to justify what they are doing – all in the knowledge that with this in the public domain, things can’t just be brushed under the carpet or not talked about.
The other ‘announcement’ in the Bill is a public duty to reduce the equality gap between rich and poor. Very laudable – the equality gap is widening and if you look at stats around the world you see that those countries that have less of a gap do much better on every scale – including happiness! The Tories will term this class war. I would say that the ambition is right but the methodology is wrong. Or rather – the equality gap should be narrowed – but by bringing the bottom up without lessening the universal services and their standards that all are entitled.