Promoting Equality for a Fairer Society
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats
Chair of the Liberal Democrats' Equalities Policy Working Group, Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon, looks forward to discussing their work at Conference:
'In the present state of society it appears necessary to go back to first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground.' So wrote Mary Wollstencraft in 1792. More recently, party members in the Twitterverse have become accustomed to the phrase 'check your privilege'. For Liberal Democrats our constitution is clear enough about the simple truths upon which we agree: "The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community". As a result we challenge prejudice and entrenched privilege every step of the way and promote equality in a free society.
But one of the things that occurred to me and fellow members of the Equalities Policy Working Group was that we've not done enough to shout about some of the really great things we've achieved in Government in this area. Of course there are many things that would have been different if it had been entirely up to Liberal Democrats, but that shouldn't detract from what we have done - be that introducing legislation on same sex marriage, shared parental leave, more support for childcare costs, changes to the tax system to help part-time workers and women or the triple lock on the state pension. Not to mention the bad things that might have happened had we not been in coalition, to the Public Sector Equality Duty for example!
Though these successes have helped us on our journey to become a fairer and more progressive country, that does not mean that this mission is accomplished. The group and I were under no illusions that the Government has been flawless or that there isn't a great deal more to do. We need to create more opportunities through education, more diversity in the workforce, more equality in health outcomes and a more tolerant society.
One of the most exciting things about this policy area is that it underpins a real cultural shift. Nowhere is this more obvious than on equal marriage. In the 1980s 60% of Britain's population thought that same sex relationships were wrong, now it's less than 30%, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey. Britain has come a long way in introducing same-sex marriage, and there is no area where we should be prouder for our part in leading the way. Our paper looked to continue this positive trend in. We call for same sex marriage to be promoted abroad, actions to address the 'spousal veto' (which affects couples where one partner has changed gender) and for marriage to be extended to non-religious people, allowing humanist weddings for example.
I was also delighted to see that the Pre-Manifesto includes proposals for extending the free early years childcare entitlement, as a universal offer to all 2 year olds. Childcare costs are still too often a barrier for women wanting to enter the workforce. But it's not enough just to get women into work; we also want more women in top positions and on higher pays scales. With this in mind our paper calls for all large companies to report and acknowledge their gender pay gap and for more to be done to address so called 'pipeline problems' where women don't receive the support throughout their career to be 'board-ready'.
Our remit was very broad and the paper covers issues on race, religion, disability, mental health and age as well as those on gender and LGBT+. Often these issues intersect which makes the issue an enormous one, and I hope there will be much there to discuss at conference. The group and I were very proud to be part of the great Liberal Democrat tradition of promoting equality for all. I look forward to seeing you in Glasgow.
- Dr Belinda Brooks-Gordon is a Reader in Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London. She has the life-limiting disease Lupus, and has been a County Cllr, PPC, and Euro Candidate. She serves as a Regional Exec member and Chair of the Equalities Policy Working Group.
- The Equalities Policy Working Group produced the policy paper, Expanding Opportunity, Unlocking Potential being put to conference this autumn.