Letter to The Guardian - 'Theresa May says equality is a dirty word'

Theresa May, Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities revealed that the Government felt that equality has become a 'dirty word' in a speech in November 2010. Voice4Change England wrote to the Editor of the Guardian to set the record straight and asks how the Minister plans to build a 'fair' society without equality.

17 Nov 2010

Theresa May MPDear Guardian Editor,

In her speech this week, the Equalities Minister Theresa May accuses equality of being a ‘dirty word’ and argues instead for a focus on fairness. As advocates for the Black and Minority Ethnic voluntary and community sector, Voice4Change England (V4CE) reminds the Government that fairness is not a substitute for equality: ‘Fairness’ is not supported by legislation and is a concept that lacks definition. ‘Equality’ on the other hand affords legislative protection against discrimination on specific grounds, (e.g. race, disability, gender). This legal protection has been vital to the progression of equality in our society.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to building policies around the principle of fairness. However equal opportunities can only be achieved by striving for equality of outcome. Evidence points strongly to the ethnic penalty which still remains in the UK today. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that ‘when the contribution of individual characteristics (such as fewer qualifications) to employment disadvantage is analysed, there are some unexplained outcomes. For example, Black Africans have very high rates of higher education qualifications, but also suffer from high rates of unemployment and poor occupational outcomes’.

V4CE strongly disagrees that equality is a ‘dirty word’. If equality has in fact become seen as a dirty word then this is a failure on the part of the Government to properly communicate the true impact of inequality. Clear communication, transparency and accountability are all vital to the creation of a more equal society. It is the role of government to ensure that these measures are well placed and implemented.

If unfairness is to be tackled, it is essential that the distinct needs of disadvantaged individuals and communities are properly accounted for. Civilized societies are marked by how they treat their most vulnerable. We urge the Government not to allow this focus on fairness to detract from a robust and meaningful commitment to address inequalities. ‘Fairness’ and ‘equality’ must be used hand in hand to ensure protection for the vulnerable and excluded within our society.

Vandna Gohil, Voice4Change England