This week Helen Grant MP, appointed Equalities Minister in the last re-shuffle, came to set her stall out at the year’s first meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities, jointly held with the APPG’s on Disability, Race and Community, Sex Equality.
The Minister focused on the notion of fairness, and what equality means to her personally. She spoke about an individuals’ ability to achieve, progress and achieve full potential, regardless of the circumstances of birth. She praised Coalition policies on flexible working, getting more women on corporate boards, salaried part-time working practices, and voluntary gender equality reporting in employment.
The radical reforms of the Equality and Human Rights Commission were immediately flagged up in conversation with those in attendance. Responding to these the Minister spoke of her on-going dialogue with the newly-appointed Chair of the EHRC, Baroness O’Neill, and that the recent cuts were “not because we want to cut [the EHRC] down, but because it is to do with the overriding necessity: to deal with the deficit.” As the recent changes in the EHRC’s board and staffing begin to take root, it remains to be seen what the impact of this will be, and if Helen Grant will have more to say.
The main focus for discussion was the much-anticipated legislation on same-sex-marriage. Grant acknowledged the controversial nature of the issue and emphasised that it has been the largest ever government consultation. She also talked about the need for the protection for religious institutions.
Amber Rudd MP, Chair of the APPG on Sex Equality, sought reassurance that women’s views would be heard in Government policy making and David Lammy MP, Chair of the APPG on Race and Community reiterated that race equality, especially in terms of unemployment and discrimination, needs to be at the top of the agenda. Baroness Greengross, chairing the event (and the Equalities APPG) noted the Minister will need to keep a ‘roving eye’ on implementation of policy across all parties, and the minister emphasised that the equality ministers are working hard to review what their focus is going to be. Comments were put to her regarding the various priorities of different groups often affected by inequality, and the minister emphasised both her and her party’s past actions (including having recently visited women’s community facilities developed following the Corston report) and her future intentions, on the same sex marriage legislation and one-to-one meetings with the other ministers to further discuss their priorities.
Although only an hour long, the general feeling was one of a ‘long way to go’, and discussions could quite likely have gone well on into the evening. After lively discussions on women, same sex marriage, the EHRC and race issues facing the current Coalition Government, it was clear that Helen Grant has her work cut out.