Enforceable Equality: Shift to the Home Office might give the equality agenda the teeth it needs
Dods Monitoring's Home Affairs specialist, Sabine Tyldesley, asks what does the move of the ‘Women and Equalities’ ministerial brief to Home Office mean?
At long last the Prime Minister has bowed to pressure and conducted a reshuffle after small initial changes in autumn 2017. One of the most drastic changes seemed like a practical decision at first, but could indeed mean more.
Theresa May decided to appoint Home Secretary Amber Rudd to a dual role as Women and Equalities minister, after Justice Greening resigned from the front bench. The Government Equalities Office (GEO) will also move to the Home Office, the fourth time in five years that it will change Department, having previously been annexed to Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Department of Education.
Critics have dismissed this as merely a symbolic move, one that indicates equalities is once again slipping down the priorities agenda; others warned Rudd will not have enough time for new brief – especially with Brexit drawing close. Jess Phillips, member of the Women and Equalities Committee and feminist campaigner, called for the brief to be isolated to be given the attention it deserves.
However, the Prime Minister’s backers point to the appointment of the second most senior woman in the Government as lead on this issue, as evidence of how seriously it is being taken.
Yet, when observing Amber Rudd last week, responding to Oral Questions to the Women and Equalities minister there could be a third reason for the move.
Amber Rudd came across as confident, reasonable, receptive and, more than anything, knowledgeable. Looking back at past questions, a large proportion dealt with violence against women and girls (VAWG), domestic violence, diversity/discrimination and criminal justice – questions, one might argue, best aimed at a representative from the law enforcement brief.
In fact, many essential issues surround the Women’s and Equalities brief sit squarely within the Home Office remit.
The Lammy review on disproportionate representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the Criminal Justice System published in September suggested work needed to be done to protect vulnerable children and women coerced into gang activity or those subjected to modern slavery.
The report further argues the disproportionate use of Stop and Search drained trust in the CJS – something Amber Rudd has been taking an to improve.
Diversity in the judiciary has come under fire following the last few rounds of judicial diversity reporting. While this is a matter for the judiciary and professional bodies to resolve, work done in the GEO could support progress here.
Initiatives on gender pay gap reporting and with employers through the apprenticeship diversity network to improve diversity and access for women to more male dominated roles may be valuable to be applied across Home office and Justice sectors, too.
The Government already put better reporting for equality and diversity in some areas via the race disparity audit “explain or change” and the gender pay gap reporting requirements (All employers with 250 or more employees are now required by law to publish their gender pay gap each year).
With stories of female sexual harassment and pay disparities making the headlines daily, campaigners have seized the moment to act while interest is high. Perhaps a minister sitting in Cabinet and the helm of law enforcement will give the equalities commitment by Government the teeth it needs.
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