Government’s focus on Levelling Up must not turn back the clock on hard-won equal rights
24 September 2021
In its new Report, Levelling Up and equality: a new framework for change, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee continues to argue that the Government must create a new Cabinet level Secretary of State for Equalities and Levelling Up.
The inquiry looked at the structures and mechanisms in place to support the Government Equalities Office in fulfilling its responsibilities.
The Committee warns that hard-won progress on important equality issues
could fall by the wayside as long as the additional role of Women and Equalities Minister is given to Secretaries of State with all-encompassing, non-complementary 'day jobs'. A new full-time Cabinet post should drive implementation of the much-vaunted Levelling Up agenda and a new pan-equalities strategy, backed up by annual Action Plans with tangible objectives, focusing on issues faced by people with protected characteristics recognised in the Equality Act 2010. Levelling Up and well-established, long-standing equality issues should be treated as complementary, high priority agendas, or the Government risks regression on equal rights after decades of progress, the Committee argues.
The Report concludes that lessons must be learned from the unequal effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Government’s response to the crisis, from which witnesses to the inquiry believed the Government Equalities Office, and wider Cabinet Office Equality Hub, was largely missing.
The Committee calls for a refreshed approach to engaging with stakeholders on a range of sensitive and important issues, drawing on lessons learned from Gender Recognition Act reform and communication of the findings of the Commission of Race and Ethnic Disparities. The Government should invite the Equality and Human Rights Commission to lead a programme of stakeholder engagement with an aim of better understanding varied perspectives on the most difficult balanced rights debates.
The Report expresses the Committee’s deep disappointment with the Government’s engagement with its scrutiny, clearly demonstrated by the failure of Government ministers to attend oral evidence sessions.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, said:
“Just this week, the Minister for Women and Equalities was unable to attend Women and Equalities questions in the chamber because of conflicting commitments as the new Foreign Secretary. It is obvious that the current setup of Cabinet leaves no space or time to really address inequality in the UK. By effectively treating the role of Women and Equalities Minister as a side-hustle, the Government is demonstrating its lack of willingness to invest energy in creating change. It's 2021, and high time that the role is given the heft and resource needed to address important, long-established equality issues.
"The Government's 'levelling up' agenda must not be at the expense of tackling wider inequality, and the new role should address longstanding issues such as race and sexual orientation with the same importance it affords to geographical inequality. The Government must recognise the inequalities laid bare by the pandemic, and see this as a turning point to demonstrate its willingness to tackle them."
Image credit: PA