James Dobson is a senior researcher at Bright Blue.
Last year, on the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister railed against the “burning injustices” which prevented people from different minority backgrounds achieving their full potential in Britain.
The speech sparked the beginning of the Prime Minister’s social reform agenda. Today, Bright Blue has launched a new report with 70 recommendations to support this agenda.
Theresa May was right to draw attention to these injustices. The differences in life outcomes because of who you are, rather than what you are do, are stark and wrong.
For instance, individuals from certain ethnic minority backgrounds achieve significantly lower grades at GCSE and A-Level. While, more than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience bullying in schools.
In work, there is a 9.4 per cent gap between average pay for male and female full-time workers. There is also a significant pay gap between white workers and workers from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds.
Disabled people face particularly acute problems. The disability employment gap currently stands at 32 percentage points, and has grown by two percentage points since 2010. This is despite the Coalition Government’s aim of halving the gap by 2020.
Now, of course, these differences are not all caused by discrimination. There are multiple causes of low school attainment among students from certain minority backgrounds, for instance. However, there is now substantial evidence that shows discrimination, both overt and subtle, does play a role in holding people back in education, employment and wider society.
Earlier this year, for example, an investigation by the BBC found that a jobseeker with an English-sounding name was offered three times more interviews than an applicant with a Muslim-sounding name. This is despite their CVs containing identical skills and experience. This finding has also been noted in academic studies.
At its best and most inspiring, conservatism is about removing barriers to unleash personal potential. This is why, in the 1980s, working-class voters frequently voted for the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher. Discrimination is an unjustified barrier to individual freedom, and thus should be treated seriously and tackled by Conservatives.
Last year, Bright Blue launched a year-long inquiry, headed by three former Conservative Cabinet Ministers, to understand and find new ways to tackle all forms of discrimination, including gender, racial, disability, sexual, and religious discrimination. The final report from this inquiry launched today, and focuses in particular on removing discrimination in education and employment.
Each policy recommendation is underpinned by conservative principles. Some are small reforms, some attempt to get the state out of people’s way, and some accept “the good that government can do” to unlock people’s potential.
There are no doubt further policies on discrimination issues that could be proposed; however, we consider the ideas detailed in this manifesto to be an important starting point.
To improve women’s rights and protections, Bright Blue recommends:
- A ban on the detention of pregnant women should be introduced.
- All police services should follow the lead of Nottinghamshire Police and classify all instances of misogyny as hate crimes.
- The breach of a Domestic Violence Protection Order should become a criminal offence.
- All advertised jobs in the civil service and government agencies, including senior civil service roles, should have gender-blind recruitment procedures.
- Remove the requirement for employees to have worked for 26 continuous weeks with their current employer before having the right to request flexible working. Instead, when someone is offered a job, they should have the right to request flexible working.
- All expectant mothers should be given the right to paid leave to attend antenatal appointments with a healthcare professional.
- Government should abolish employment tribunal fees for all basic-rate taxpayers.
To reduce discrimination against Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people, Bright Blue recommends:
- Government should mandate that all police forces should introduce positive action in the recruitment of police officers to ensure their workforce mirrors the ethnic makeup of their communities they serve.
- Government should legislate to give the Home Office the power to require police forces to show annual declines in the number of stop and searches. The Home Office should have the power to remove the relevant chief police officer if certain targets are not met.
- The Home Office requires all Police Services to ensure all of their officers wear body worn cameras when interacting with the public.
- The Government should introduce ‘Anti-Discrimination Agreements’ with Higher Education Institutes, based on the currently-used Access Agreements, which aim to widen access to Higher Education Institutes. All Higher Education Institutes charging above £6,000 in tuition fees would be required to compile and sign-up to an Anti-Discrimination Agreement, setting out how Higher Education Institutes would safeguard students, especially women and BME students, from discrimination
To reduce improve outcomes for disabled people, Bright Blue recommends:
- Employers’ National Insurance Contributions (NICs) on each disabled person an employer hires should be scrapped, permanently. This should be done in line with the reforms introduced for employers of young apprentices in 2016, so an employer will not pay employers NIC on any disabled employee earning under gross £866 a week.
- All local authorities should be required to permit a disabled person to be accompanied by a companion for free when using the National Concessionary Travel Scheme.
- The Government should design a number of minimum requirements for disability access on rail travel and write these into future franchise agreements. Train Operating Companies who failed to meet these minimum requirements would risk being stripped of their franchise agreement.
- All new dwellings in all local authorities should be required to meet more stringent standards for disability access. Specifically, M4(2) of the building regulations.
To provide greater equality for LGBT+ people, Bright Blue recommends:
- All state schools should be required to establish anonymous, online reporting systems for all forms of bullying in schools.
- We recommend that the Government should establish and promote a new national LGBT kitemark scheme for employers.
- We recommend that all police services – including the British Transport Police – introduce a discrete reporting system so that individuals can report hate crimes as they are happening. This could be in the form of a text messaging service (SMS), website or mobile app.
- We recommend that the Government amend the Equality Act 2010, replacing ‘gender reassignment’ with ‘gender identity’ to ensure all transgender people are protected.
To be electorally attractive, especially to younger people, conservatism need to re-find its optimistic and inspirational vision: of a Britain where barriers to individual freedom and flourishing are broken, and everyone – no matter who you are or where you’ve come from – has the chance to succeed.