UK Equality Ministers criticised by Women and Equalities Committee for avoiding scrutiny.
There’s a pretty famous old sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus known as “Trouble at Mill” or “The Spanish Inquisition”.
In it, a mill worker in Yorkshire enters a lavish room and tries to explain (in an almost unintelligible Yorkshire accent) what the “trouble at the mill” is to a clueless and largely uninterested owner’s wife, only to be interrupted and completely derailed by The Spanish Inquisition.
Putting the slightly problematic, archaic humour aside, it's an apt metaphor for what’s going on in the UK Government's Equalities Office, with the Women & Equalities Committee playing the part of the worker, Liz Truss and the GEO as the clueless owner who doesn't understand a word they’re saying, and right wing ideologues, Gender Critical hatemongers and a compliant mainstream media playing the part of the Inquisition.
And when it comes to Equalities, there is indeed “Trouble at Mill”, as today’s letter from the W&EC, who are currently investigating a number of equality issues including an enquiry into the failed and largely abandoned GRA Reform, worryingly demonstrates (reproduced below in full)
Relationship between the Women and Equalities Committee and the Government Equalities Office.
I have become concerned in recent months about the approach being taken by the GEO and its Ministers to my Committee and its essential scrutiny work. We have become increasingly frustrated by a lack of positive engagement from Ministers and note that a growing public perception of Government intransigence on equalities issues is being reflected in our own relationship.
Our first concern relates to the timeliness of your responses to our reports. You will be aware that the Government has undertaken to reply to recommendations in reports from select committees which are directed to it within two months of publication. We received your complete response to our report Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services on 30 March, having initially expected it on 22 February. We are still awaiting your response to our report Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact. This was due on 9th April, and so at the time of writing is almost three weeks late. The reasons given for the delays have largely related to the difficulty of coordinating responses across Government departments. We take a dim view of this response given a primary function of the GEO is to coordinate equalities issues across Government.
We have also experienced difficulty when seeking ministerial attendance at our evidence sessions. We were unable to agree any suitable dates for the Minister for Women or Minister for Equalities to give evidence as part of our inquiry into the GEO, despite giving three months’ notice of the session and offering six alternatives. Furthermore, no GEO minister was available to attend the final session of our inquiry into Body Image, and we are still awaiting your response to our invitation on 26 March to give evidence to our Gender Recognition Act inquiry. While scheduling reasons have been given on each
occasion, a clear pattern is emerging which is limiting our ability to scrutinise Government effectively and positively contribute to the policy development process.
Finally, we have been unable to secure timely replies to our correspondence to you, your ministerial colleagues, and your officials. For example, we wrote to you regarding the LGBT Action Plan on 24 February but have not yet received your response, despite confirming our expectation of such on 15 April. On 12 February, we wrote to the Director of the Equality Hub requesting basic information about its structure and staffing, requesting a reply by 12 March and receiving an unsatisfactory response on 30 March.
We appreciate that the last year has presented unique challenges and have shown patience on this basis. We also note, however, that our relationships with other Government departments, with which we have fewer interactions and less established relationships, have not been characterised by the issues highlighted above.
I hope you will now take steps to swiftly resolve both the general and specific issues outlined in this letter. I have copied this letter to Minister Badenoch and Minister Berridge given the pertinence of its contents to their work and hope they will take steps to do the same.
I look forward to building a more positive and cooperative relationship in the future.
In accordance with our usual practice, this letter, along with your reply, will be published on the Committee’s webpage.
Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP
Chair, Women and Equalities Committee'
This is the latest in a long line of Equalities failures by the ruling UK Conservative Government that stretch back to before the current political incumbents, but has seen the decline grow increasingly worse under Liz Truss and the current GEO.
We know that both Liz Truss and the GEO have failed spectacularly with GRA reform and have been dithering on the Conversion Therapy ban for three years, culminating in yet another public consulltation in an attempt to find a way to exempt religious organistions and current practicioners under the tired old canards of “Freedom of Speech” and “Religious Freedom” so often misused by the far right.
And we have seen a worrying shift in focus, with Liz Truss essentially declaring war on the Equalities Act and moving to look at economic and geographic inequality instead in December 2020.
The situation has deteriorated so badly that the several members of the LGBT Advisory Panel quit in disgust in March over the lack of action on banning Conversion Therapy, the lack of engagement and the GEO's own contribution to the current hostile atmosphere affecting trans people in the UK today. The panel completely disbanded in April 2021, and it is not known at this time if it will be replaced.
In this letter, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee and MP for Romsey and Southampton North, highlights in this letter what appears to be a complete disengagement by the UK Government on Equality issues, with GEO ministers actively avoiding scrutiny, refusing to attend to give evidence and completely ignoring the committee itself.
Part of the issue may be simple - it is clear that Liz Truss is uninterested in the brief itself, and is spending all her time trying to secure trade deals to mitigate the disastrous effects of Brexit on the economy.
It is also clear that Liz Truss is fervently opposed to transgender people’s existence. The same can be said of other GEO ministers, who are more interested in pushing outdated lies about trans people and denying that systemic or institutionalised racism exists.
And it is absolutely indicative of a Government and Equalities brief in complete disarray - lacking focus, a bunker mentality to avoid scrutiny and promoting bigotry on a scale not seen since the 1980s - which led to the imposition Section 28, effectively banning education about LGBT+ people in an act of blatant homophobia.
But one thing is abundantly clear - this does not bode well for those affected by social inequalities of every form, nor for democracy as a whole.
Authored by our Co-Editor, Claire - Twitter @ClaireExists