The new coalition government introduced a raft of new legislation in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech which promises to bring radical change to the country. Whilst the full details of the new legislation have not yet been published, below are some early thoughts on what it could mean for race equality.
Given the unequal attainment levels of different ethnic groups, the pupil premium included in the Education and Children’s Bill may have a positive impact on those BME children in lower attaining groups. However clarification will be needed on how the pupil premium will be allocated – will, for example, being a child from an ethnic group with the lowest attainment levels (such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups, or Black Caribbean Children) result in receiving pupil premium funding? In addition, it is important that the amount allocated through the premium is enough as to act as a sufficient incentive for schools to accept them as pupils.
The slimming down of the curriculum could be a concern if citizenship classes and other multi-cultural initiatives are scrapped – however it is not yet clear whether this will be the case.
The emphasis on increasing patient choice in the Health Bill may impact some BME people differently from other groups. Previous research by Runnymede on school choice found that BME parents find it difficult to exercise choice, and therefore downgrade their options prior to selecting schools. Further research would be needed to consider whether this would be the case in heath, but it is worth considering the school choice example
It has now been confirmed that Lib Dem MP and Communities and Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell will hold the race equality and community cohesion brief in the new coalition government. He succeeds former Labour MP Shahid Malik in the post.
Stunell will also focus on the role of the controversial "Prevent" scheme which was set up with the aim of preventing Islamic extremism. His other duties will include building regulations and the "Big Society".
He previously held the post of Liberal Democrat shadow community cohesion minister between 2006-2007 and spent time as the party's deputy chief whip. Stunell - also MP for Hazel Grove - was also one of the five Lib Dem MPs involved in the post-election coalition negotiations with the Conservatives.
Dr Omar Khan, Runnymede's senior policy researcher, posted an article on the well respected Left Foot Forward blog this weekend on the impact of PR on BME representation. In the article he concludes that the electoral system has a limited effect on the proportion of under-represented groups, that AV in particular is unlikely to have much effect, and other measures – including internal political party policies – are more likely to increase BME representation in Parliament. You can read the full post on Left Foot Forward.
The new government has today published a detailed coalition agreement, outlining its plans in a variety of key policy areas including finance, education, climate change and health.
A number of policy positions have been announced on equalities, which include:
The full document is available here.
According to the Guardian, home secretary Theresa May has this morning confirmed that the new coalition government is reconsidering whether to scrap the Human Rights Act. However, whilst replacing the act with a British Bill of Rights was a key pledge in the Conservative manifesto, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg reportedly said this morning that any government would tamper with the act "at its peril". The Lib Dems strongly criticised the Conservative’s stance on this issue during the election campaign.
The coalition is currently in discussions over what to do in this area and it remains to be seen whether this will cause a rift between the two parties. It is expected that the new government’s position will be clarified in a detailed coalition agreement to be published tomorrow.
The new attorney general Dominic Grieve MP argued passionately in favour of a British Bill of Rights in a paper written for Runnymede earlier this year on conservatism and community cohesion. In the paper he stated that such a bill would be important for social cohesion and national unity.
Responding to Grieve’s essay, Labour peer Lord Parekh suggested that there is a danger that a new bill could be “regressive and biased towards the anxieties of the ‘law abiding majority’ and against individuals’ liberties, especially those of immigrants and asylum seekers”.
With the Queen’s Speech and official opening of Parliament taking place next week, all eyes will be on what legislation the new coalition government will introduce.
Bills are expected on education, immigration and crime – and of course, the economy. However, one of the most eye-catching prospects for the race equality sector will be what the coalition is calling a “Freedom or Great Repeal Bill”.
Outlined in the seven page coalition agreement, the new government highlights that it will scrap or roll-back initiatives introduced under the Labour government which have been perceived by some as infringing civil liberties. Up for the axe include the controversial ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the next generation of biometric passports. In addition, “safeguards” against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation are proposed.
For the race equality sector, proposals to reform the DNA database will be of particular interest. Research by the Ministry of Justice and Department for Work and Pensions previously found that 30% of all black men living in Britain are on the DNA database compared with 10% of white men, and that 57% of innocent DNA samples taken in London are from the black population. The coalition government is currently proposing to adopt similar measures to those used for the Scottish DNA database which will mean that people acquitted of less serious offences will have their profile removed from the database.
Former Shadow Equalities Spokesperson Lynne Featherstone MP has today been appointed as a Junior Home Office Minister with responsibility for equalities.
The Hornsey and Wood Green MP will work under Theresa May MP - the new Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality - although the full details of her role have not yet been made clear.
Featherstone, who was Equalities Spokesperson for two years, wrote a paper for Runnymede in February outlining her party's race equality policies. In the paper she called for the introduction of a "name blank" application policies in employment and accused the Labour government of "badly managing" the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Featherstone also criticised the over-representation of the black population on the DNA database.
Posted by Vicki 12 May 2010 : representation ,
Further to my post below, I thought readers would also be interested to learn the overall proportion of BME MPs in parliament and in each party.
This is an improvement on the last parliament, but still falls short of the proportion of ethnic minority people living in the UK (7.9%)
Last week’s election saw the largest ever number of BME MPs elected to parliament, with the number rising from 14 to 27.
Whilst high profile candidates such as Conservatives Shaun Bailey and Willfred Emmanuel Jones were narrowly beaten, others such as Labour’s Rushanara Ali and Chuka Ummuna, and the Conservatives’ Priti Patel and Helen Grant, made it to Westminster.
Labour’s David Lammy and the Conservatives' Adam Afriyie were returned to parliament, although Dawn Butler lost her seat to Lib Dem Sarah Teather.
Posted by Vicki 05 May 2010 : election ,
Organisations across the equality sector have run high profile campaigns this election – will these ensure that equality is given the attention it deserves by whoever is elected on Thursday?
Given the excellent work done by many organizations this election, I thought it would be worth providing an overview of some of the most eye-catching campaigns run by those working on equality issues.
First up, Stonewall has painstakingly compiled the voting records of all MPs on LGBT equality issues over the last parliament. The votes covered include the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2009; Amendment 21 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill; and incitement to hatred in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.
Fawcett ran a high profile “What about Women?” campaign this election which included holding a debate on the issue with equalities spokespeople for the three major parties - Harriet Harman, Theresa May and Lynne Feathersrtone. In addition, they have helpfully asked all major parties – including Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Greens – three major questions on gender equality, the answers of which are available on their website.