The Equality Bill

My latest local newspaper column was about the Equality Bill:

Fanfare please! At last – the much trailed, much vaunted, long-time in gestation Equality Bill is here and going through Parliament.

So what’s in it? Well – there’s not space to cover the great tome in just one column – but here’s a taster.

Much of the Bill is a bringing together of all the bits and pieces of equality legislation over recent decades – and that’s one of those small sounding administrative changes (putting all the rules together in one place) that will actually have a big impact (clearer legislation means easier to understand, fewer mistakes and – sorry lawyers! – even a bit less legal work in future). That’s one of the reasons why broadly speaking the Liberal Democrats are backing this Bill, although as it goes through Parliament we (in particular – myself, leading on the Bill in the Commons – and Lord Lester, who basically wrote the book on equalities, leading on the Bill in the Lords) will be working to improve it.

Now getting to the contentious stuff – and making sure than men and women are paid equally for equivalent jobs. I’m a great fan of pay audits – making companies and the public sector check their pay to ensure that they aren’t discriminating in what they pay men and women. Of course, when this issue comes up, there’s always a chorus of voices saying, “Oh, we’re fine in our firm/industry/sector”. Well, if that’s the case – a clean bill of health will be a good mark in favour of a firm that will make it easier to attract good quality staff. And if it isn’t the case – well, that’s the whole point – to bring that to light.

But the Government has wimped out of requiring firms to carry out pay audits. It says something about the struggle there is still to be had for men and women to be treated equally that there are 1,001 things the Government is happy to order firms to do – but at the basic level of not discriminating in pay, it has blinked. Instead, the Bill proposals a weak voluntary scheme for several years, with maybe, perhaps, possibly further action after that.

Better news though – one way firms get away with unfair or unequal pay practices is by banning staff from telling anyone else how much they are paid. Rather a restriction on freedom of speech – and the Bill will ban this sort of censorship.

Next, religion – or more accurately, the Government’s intention to extend the current existing public duties to race, gender, disability and sexual orientation to religion and belief. This would mean that public authorities would be obliged in carrying out their functions to advance equality of opportunity and good relations between different groups. Obviously we all would subscribe to promoting good relations etc – but a public duty? Religious views on things like abortion, alcohol, homosexuality and sex education in schools are varied – to put it mildly. It would be absurd to require public authorities to accommodate all the different religious views in these policies which affect us all. This is a road to hell (if you will excuse the religious connotations) paved with good – but ludicrous – intentions.

And one more major issue to pick out – the proposed new duty for bodies receiving public funding, requiring them to consider the equality gap between rich and poor. In some ways this is no different from saying that when our taxes are spent by public bodies they should bear in mind whether or not they are damaging our environment in how they go about spending them. Thinking of the wider implications of spending makes sense and if you can use the spending to help achieve more than one goal – then that’s even better news as it’s more value for money in the cash-strapped times. But the way this duty is laid out in the Bill is, I fear, simplistic and unfair, it’s wording is broad enough to attract controversy, worry and legal arguments, but too weak to have much of an impact. The worst of all worlds. This is a case where the role of Parliament in amending Bills can be crucial.

That’s only a brief sample of the points covered by the Bill – and even for those, it’s a pretty brief summary of what the Bill does and my views on it. You can keep up with them in more detail as the Bill goes through Parliament via my list of blog postings on the topic.

0 thoughts on “The Equality Bill

  1. Consider the following situation-Like any ordinary MP, you have a great deal of work that needs doing on your home and, due to your busy MP lifestyle, you have to employ others to do it. One day, you notice that the moat needs clearing and ring some people for quotes.You receive a quote for £10,000 from Fred Smith, a heterosexual white ethnic englishman, and a quote for £9500 from Shilpa Patel, a lesbian of ethnic Indian descent.If you accept Shilpa’s quote rather than Fred’s, are you committing an act of discrimination against Shilpa? Should the state be able to either force you to pay her £10,000 (for the equivalent work to Fred) or take you to court for racism and/or homophobia?If this does not apply to your choice of moat clearer, why does it apply to persons on full time contracts? Why are you allowed to choose the cheapest freelance moat clearer, but not the cheapest full time one?What is morally special about the act of “employment”?

  2. Typical of Lynne – completely refuses to discuss the racist and sexist parts of the bill, instead just focusing on the least controversial parts, thus pretending the racist and sexist and undemocratic parts don’t’ exist.Any decent politician would speak out and condemn sexist and racism, yet Lynne doesn’t even acknowledge it’s existence in the bill.No wonder people are sick of most politicians!

  3. I am very glad that Lynne has informed me of this bill and its implications, as we have read so many times how “diversity” managers are condemning religious belief in employees (see nurse who offers prayers as comfort to patients gets sacked in SOmerset) whilst we allow Lord Ahmed a “let his motorway killing text” off the hook for work with “charities”. Labour has just declared that universities can charge the higher rate of costs for any person on income support (or like me dependendent adults) if they are applying to retrain and had a first degree before…whereas an EU student with no 1st degree can get UK citizen rates. That means carers who want to return to work and have been forced on a benefit (eg use your savings) are treated unequally to those who have not a UK 1st degree (or just lie that they havent got one from abroad) and the taxpayers and pensioners must pay for them to get a discount. The Equality Bill is a farce when they pretend that you must consider the rich/poor divide that is created by their own policies to Higher education and training…you can be poor and educated but you cant be poor and retrain for work, you can be poor and get O level standard education for free but you get beyond your poor working class (usually women are carers too) then you must PAY more than a citizen of another EU state…Lynne please tell them what EQUAL in EQUALITY actually means!

  4. I am glad Lynne you have said this – as it is truly absurd.I am a woman working class carer but due to pre Thatcher I got a degree. Now for three years I have looked after cancer OAP mum and on income support I would not be able to get a cheaper rate or any help because Govt has just decided that if you go back to retrain at Univ, and have got one degree (however twenty years old it is) then you should PAY the fullhigher rate, whilst if you are on inc support or an EU citizen or lie when you come from abroad you can pay the lower rate of fees. It would be great if you could explain why they put EQUAL in equality when the bill itself indicates that the GOVT is creating an inequality of access to retraining at degree level for the most poor and most desperate to retrain and work…you can get free education if you dont have a degree and that means however poor you are the GOVT now penalises you into a continued state of poverty because it will not help you on means tests but on the fact you got a useless degree pre Thatcher (when it was free grants to go to univ) and of course like my OAP ma and me we have both paid ALL THE TAXES THAT THE UK demands whereas an Eu or foreign student is now being subsidised by our TAXES. I FRANKLY DONT CARE IF RELIGION IS IN OR OUT OF THE BILL, as it is clear when a nurse was penalised for offering a prayer to console a patient that she was going to get sacked – and the LAW ON EQUALITY was being misused by the DIVERSITY AND EQUALITY managers. In Haringey Diversity and equality is not abiding by the LAW anyway and diversity is being used to create more jobs for anyone from any group regardless of the need to provide equality of access for all races/creeds to be seen equally. The word that is continually missing from the Labour Party is “in proportion to” or a real hardone for the Labour Party to follow is “democratically representative”.

  5. I think people should really read the Bill before they start writing comments on here. Some of these comments don’t really make sense – trying to understand what Ian B’s saying is completely beyond me. I think breaking down the barriers that stop people achieving all they are capable of for our society is something that we can all support.

  6. Mark, plenty of people HAVE read the bill and know it is full of sexism and racism.Regardless fo what Lynne and her extremist feminist friends say, giving someone a job just because they are of a partiuclar sex is sexism. Similarly it is racist to get a job because of their skin is very rare to find two compeltely equally matched candidates (in those rare cases it would still be possible to make a decision based on a second interview).Thus in reality the main impact of thsi bill is to give an excuse for ethnic minority racists and man hating feminists to employ inferior candidates rather than the best person for the job. And as long as the candidates aren’t vastly inferior they’ll probably get away with it too, especially given the current disgraceattitudes of this government to discrimination against males.Right now it is currently illegal to give someone a job due to their sex or gender – this bill legalises sex and race discrimination. Talk about a backwards step!

  7. I envy your experience Anonymous if you really think someone like Lynne Featherstone is an extremist. You must have been very lucky in who you’ve met if you’ve managed to not see or hear any real extremists!You also never mention any concerns about racism against non-white people or sexism against women. Again I envy your lucky life if you have never come across them. If you had, it is hard to believe you would write so much without showing any concern about such behaviour.

  8. I wasn’t suggesting Lynne was an extremist feminist. Just stating that many of those who she supports most certainly are.I believe Lynne is mostly just misguided, and in some cases uninformed rather than some sort of crazy man-hater. There just isn’t the same disdain and hatred of men present in Lynne’s speeches nor on this site that you find with the very worst man-hating politicians.Mens issues even register on her radar very, very occasionally, though they are still very obviously right down at the bottom of her list.

  9. Ian B said:’Why are you allowed to choose the cheapest freelance moat clearer, but not the cheapest full time one?What is morally special about the act of “employment”?’I’m not sure about the word, “special” but there is a clear difference between employees and contractors.For employees, the employer sets the terms and conditions and the freedom of the employee is just to say no – not to take a job, but to work elsewhere.For contractors, that is reversed: the contractor sets the terms and conditions and the commissioner has the freedom to say no – and use a different contractor.Shilpa knows and controls her own costs – as does Fred – so if she can make an adequate profit by charging 500 quid less, then more power to her elbow!For employees, the situation is totally different: the employer sets the pay rates and duties required – and the fundamental freedom for the employee (other than law) is only to resign.Employees obviously need very different legal protection to contractors!Roger Beaumont

  10. Ian – no, you can choose who you like at the price you want to pay.