Annual Policy Review 2014


Equalities

Equalities

Achieved

  • Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill passed through the Commons
  • Abolished automatic retirement at 65
  • Deletion of historic convictions for homosexual acts – and a pardon for Alan Turing
  •  Trained 5,000 women mentors to help women to start businesses
  • Announced package of policies aimed at helping working parents, including shared maternity/paternity leave and changes to child benefit

More to do

  • Introduction of the transferable tax allowance for married couples

Stalled/dropped

  • Implemented the Davies Report recommendations for the appointment of more women to boards – but results mixed
  • Forcing businesses to disclose their male / female pay gap.
  • Plans to reduce nursery staff-to-child ratios

The unexpected

  • Huge amount of Parliamentary and leadership time consumed by Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill
  • Coalition infighting over childcare ratios

Dangers

  • Policies fail to have significant cut-through before May 2015.
  • Another “calm down dear”: unintentional slips are more memorable than policy.
  • Excessive focus on male/female equalities –  ignoring race, disability, and other issues

 

While the equalities brief is often perceived to be one of the lowest-profile across Government – frequently assigned either to a junior minister, or lumped in with another portfolio – as far as the Coalition is concerned, equalities have provided some of the most testing issues they’ve faced.

Marriage equality has long been Mr Cameron’s personal project, and while it is undoubtedly something he believes in, there is an element of his quest which is about deliberately breaking with orthodoxy to show a new sort of Tory leader to the electorate. That has though come at a political cost, alienating some more traditional voters, who look at the policy as reason to lose faith in the Conservatives and flee to UKIP or at least waver in their support for the Tories.

Indeed, the bill providing for marriage equality only survived the Commons thanks to Labour, triggering a massive Tory rebellion in the process. The fallout was made no easier by the highly damaging leak in which someone close to the leadership allegedly described party members opposed to gay marriage and Tory policy on Europe as “swivel-eyed loons”.

Further Government infighting eventually killed off proposed changes to childcare ratios, although this issue set Coalition partners against each other, rather than dividing the Tories internally.

Perceptions of equality and inequality can of course depend on who is affected, and there are moments where values which may be considered traditionally Conservative, rather than liberal, are at stake. For example recent child benefit changes may penalise single-earner families, in favour of those where both parents are working. Likewise, new childcare subsidies will only apply to households where both parents are employed, while shared parental leave policies are set to help families split the burden of caring for a baby. Although such reforms may be justified by some on grounds of value for money and equity, detractors claim the Tories are wrongfully deserting the ‘traditional family’. The introduction of the transferable tax allowance will go some way towards rebalancing this.

During the early days of the Coalition, Cameron was dogged by accusations that he had a ‘problem with women’, partially thanks to his infamous ‘calm down dear’ put-down of Maria Eagle during a Commons debate in 2011. These ‘Flashman’ moments of seeming boorishness from the Prime Minister and some colleagues have led to a perceived problem with women voters that Tory strategy has attempted to address with policy in various areas.

Image can though be more powerful than policy. Despite well-meaning reforms, it is too easy for critics to say that a largely white, heterosexual, privately-educated, male Cabinet signifies (however unfairly) that the Coalition is not practising what it preaches.