By Matthew Barrett
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Amidst all the talk of "going for growth", Lib Dem "hate taxes on the rich", and difficult decisions for Ministers having to reduce their budgets, there is one large, flabby area of government which has been insufficiently tackled, but which could be cut down to size easily, popularly, and with huge benefits for society: the equalities sector.
As people working in the private sector – the real economy – knows, hundreds of millions of pounds are wasted on having to comply with equalities regulations, and millions more are spent on funding equalities professionals – unproductive individuals. The Treasury ought to see cutting down on this pernicious aspect of the Whitehall establishment as a priority, not just to save money on those employed to collect meaningless data, but to create the conditions necessary for small and medium-sized businesses to power the recovery.
The idea of having an equalities sector is out-dated. In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, when race relations were considered poor, and legislation like the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and '68 were passed, one could see there was some logic in ensuring government adhered to the principle of racial equality it had legislated for. Race relations improved in the second half of the 1980s and 1990s (when, un-coincidentally, a Conservative immigration existed), but, perversely, the 1980s Labour left saw "diversity", "equality", and other such Guardian buzzwords, as a fundamental part of what Labour should believe in, which led to the expansion of the equalities sector when Labour entered office in 1997.
Labour's Race Relations Act 1965 made public discrimination illegal and established the Race Relations Board, and the next Labour government's 1976 Act of the same name made discrimination illegal in the workplace and in local government services including housing, and established the Commission for Racial Equality, so it would be fair to say there were quangos in the equalities sector before Tony Blair entered office. However, his Human Rights Act 1999 made private organisations and public authorities subject to the menacing European Convention on Human Rights and the Race Relations Act 2000 made the police subject to "human rights", and required public sector organisations to "have due regard to the need… to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups".
However, the majority of the equalities sector is no longer concerned with racial harmony in public bodies, it is dedicated to an entirely unrealistic utopian vision of equality for all people, regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual preference, lifestyle choices and so on. It has also long since outgrown its remit. Professional equalities "experts" constantly agitate to expand their powers and are always ready to tell us how much better off we'd all be if only the white male, middle-aged capitalist system stopped discriminating against women and ethnic minorities.
A striking example is a report (pdf) by this government entitled "The Equality Strategy – Building a Fairer Britain" was released in December 2010. It was written by the "Members of the Inter Ministerial Group on Equalities", chaired by Theresa May, in her then-role as Minister for Women and Equalities (I reiterate my recommendation to abolish the post). There were seven Lib Dem members of this "Inter Ministerial Group" – including two who were sacked at the reshuffle, Sarah Teather and Paul Burstow – and only five Conservatives (not including Mrs May): Justine Greening, Nick Hurd, Maria Miller, Hugh Robertson, and Stephen O'Brien. Therefore the Government's first big report on equalities was weighted towards the liberal-left Lib Dem point of view.
It began with a foreword by Mrs May, which stated:
"Equality is at the heart of this Coalition Government. It is fundamental to building a strong economy and a fair society; and in these difficult economic times equality is even more important. As we rebuild our economy it is essential that we make sure we benefit from the talents of everyone in the UK".
Most alarmingly, the report stated:
- "the National Audit Office estimated that the overall cost to the economy from failure to fully use the talents of people from ethnic minorities could be around £8.6 billion annually;
- the Women and Work Commission estimated the total potential benefits of increasing women’s employment and tackling occupational gender segregation could be worth about £15 billion to £23 billion to the economy each year;
- the economic cost of violence against women in the UK is estimated to be £37.6 billion annually."
Surely a Government with a hefty deficit would be doing everything it could to get its hands on the £50billion it's losing through racist and sexist discrimination? Of course, it cannot, because the figures are wildly out of touch with reality. Peter Saunders, the excellent Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Sussex, dismissed these myths in his book, "The Rise of the Equalities Industry".
He notes, for example, that the £15-23 billion savings figure relates to the economic output of women if they performed exactly the same jobs as men, were paid the same, and participated in the labour market in the same numbers as men. Clearly this does not take into account some basic facts that any serious person would recognise: men and women do not want to work in exactly the same jobs as each other. You would have to, as Saunders says…
"…force millions of women to do science rather than arts degrees, to take private sector rather than public sector jobs, to work as software engineers and architects, rather than as teachers and vets, and to put their children in nurseries and crèches even if they prefer to spend time with them at home."
This is a perfect example of how the equalities industry removes personal choice and logic from its equations, and simply assumes "inequality" causes the difference between men and women. It's astounding that the blue half of the Coalition was happy for the Government's equalities strategy to be based on such poor quality research – or, worse, outsource it to the yellow half of the Coalition, many of whose agenda it is to regulate, interfere and create burdens for private enterprise.
George Osborne and Francis Maude, whose job it is to cut through the waste and excess of Whitehall, need to take a lead on the equalities industry. Its utopian ideology is out-dated and unnecessary, its research and cries of "inequality!" are shoddy and reductive, and it is costing British business, and causing trouble in government.
It contributes to our economic stagnation – and think how much Labour would expand it if they enter office with the tentacles of the human rights establishment still intact. Dismantling the equalities quangocracy would give the Government days of positive headlines in the press – and a positive reaction from the public. Most importantly, British society needs a good push forward: a Conservative-led government should regard removing the malignant and unproductive equalities industry a social good – and an economic priority.