We can and must have an equality agenda that is driven by evidence, and that is why we have launched an equality data project, which will look at the life paths of individuals across this country and deliver hard data about the barriers that people face.
Over the Christmas break, I was disappointed to read comments in The Guardian by Halima Begum of the Runnymede Trust, who ridiculously claimed:
“I think the government’s long-term plan is to work up white nationalism for the next elections”.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only should that insulting thinking have no place in the setting of Government policy, but it should have no place in mainstream discourse?
I agree with my hon. Friend—these comments are appalling. They reflect an attitude on the left of politics that says, “If you’re not from an oppressed group, you’re not entitled to an opinion”, and I think that is fundamentally wrong. I believe that equality is for everyone, and I am not going to let this debate be dominated by a few campaign groups.
As we recover from covid, we need to make sure that everyone in Britain has a chance to succeed and is being treated fairly in the workplace. We are broadening the focus of the Equality Hub from protected characteristics to equality for all and, in particular, tackling the scourge of geographical inequality. I will shortly be saying more about our new fight for fairness, delivering a better deal for everyone and standing up for fundamental human rights and freedoms across the world.
I very much welcome the fact that the equality agenda will be looking beyond simply protected characteristics. One key problem has been white pupils eligible for free school meals and how they have underperformed academically compared with other low income groups. Does the Minister feel that the equality agenda we have been working with, which has been almost exclusively focused on protected characteristics, may be an explainer in why that is the case?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The attainment score at GCSE for white British children who receive free school meals is lower than the equivalent for black and Asian children. At the Equality Hub, we are conducting a life path analysis to understand where the real issues are, and we are working closely with the Department for Education to take action on this issue.
The impacts of 10 years of austerity are stark: 14 million people are now in poverty, figures out today show that 45% of disabled people in work at the start of last year reported no earnings by summer, and figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that there are more women likely to live in poverty. In 2010, the Tory-led Government scrapped the Equality Act 2010’s socioeconomic duty. Addressing class and other inequalities is not an either/or. Given the Minister’s new-found passion for addressing class and poverty, will she now enact the socioeconomic duty?
We have made significant progress since 2010 in addressing disparities—for example, closing the attainment gap in education—but we recognise that, during the covid crisis, more needs to be done to address inequality and help to level up our country. The way we are going to do that is to focus on equality for everyone across our country, making sure that everyone has a fair chance—including addressing the issue of geographical inequality, which is severe in this nation.
We are finalising consultations across Government on the ratification of the ILO violence and harassment convention. Once complete, we will inform Parliament of our intentions regarding ratification. The Government share the “Safe Spaces Now” campaign’s goals to see street harassment stamped out and are committed to tackling all forms of abuse against women and girls.
In a speech last month, the Minister for Women and Equalities stated that she wanted to focus on “facts”, not “fashion”—she has made reference to that today—and to concentrate on “data and research”. The overwhelming body of evidence of structural racism is clear. It is a fact that black Caribbean children are more likely to be excluded from school. It is a fact that black women are five times more likely to die in childbirth. This is not fashion: they are facts. Does this evidence not point towards the need for action, rather than the continual denial and dismissal of the realities of systemic racism?
My hon. Friend the Minister for Equalities has already presented the clear evidence on the covid crisis. My point is that, rather than looking at equality through the prism of groups, we should be focusing on making sure that every individual in this country—regardless of their race, their background, their sexuality or their sex—has the opportunity to succeed. That is what the data project we are working on will look at.