David Green is Chairman of Civitas.
The Government needs to reduce public spending without harming vital public services such as the NHS. A prime candidate should be to abolish the public sector equality duty, a measure that has proved to be not only wasteful but harmful.
Its implementation has been captured by campaigners for identity politics, the movement that tries to portray the British people as divided between victims and their oppressors, most notably ethnic minorities and white people. Under the guise of seeking equality, diversity and inclusion, identity politics has created hate and social division.
In the NHS demands are made for proportionate representation of ethnic groups at every level, whether it be cleaners, nurses, doctors, or consultants. Any disparity is presumed to be the result of racial discrimination.
The police have often made fools of themselves by painting patrol cars in ‘pride’ colours, and abandoning impartiality by ‘taking the knee’ to show solidarity with racially motivated sectarian groups. And police forces are actively seeking proportionate representation of ethnic groups at every rank, from sergeant, through inspector to chief constable.
The public sector equality duty was created by section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, passed at the end of the Labour administration and came in to force in April 2011 under the Tories.
Public authorities are required to ‘have due regard’ to the objectives set out under section 149, namely to eliminate discrimination, harassment, and victimisation prohibited by the Equality Act 2010; to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it; and to foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not. Named public authorities are required to publish equality objectives at least every four years, and to demonstrate their compliance with the Act.
The potentially perverse effects were obvious at the time, and schedule 18 of the Equality Act listed organisations to which the duty did not apply. Parliamentarians were careful to exclude themselves, and House of Commons and the House of Lords are on the exempt list. Also exempt is the immigration service, anyone exercising judicial functions, the Security Service, and the Secret Intelligence Service.
Despite exempting MPs from the Act, the House of Commons has gone a long way to encourage identity politics among its own staff. It has a regularly updated diversity and inclusion strategy and five workplace equality networks, including ParliABLE for those who consider themselves to have a disability; ParliGENDER, which supports gender equality; ParliREACH, which supports increasing awareness of race and ethnicity; and ParliOUT, which supports LGBTIQ people.
Some of the groups hold regular meetings with the Speaker and with the House of Commons Management Board to discuss the development of ‘a leadership programme for BME (black and minority ethnic staff) and the need to get BME representation on Recruitment Boards’.
According to documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph, ParliREACH has created a ‘digital wall’ where staff can ‘acknowledge their privilege’. Confessional messages included: ‘I am a white, privately educated, middle-class female’ and ‘I am a white man and from that privileged position I now see that I can’t ever fully understand the relentless impact of racism’. Being ‘apolitical’ (that is upholding civil service impartiality) was described as the base of a ‘pyramid of white supremacy’; and asserting that we ‘all belong to the human race’ was part of a pyramid structure which supports ‘lynching’, ‘hate crimes’, and ‘genocide’.
The public sector equality duty lies behind these divisive developments. Scrapping it would allow the restoration of civil service impartiality and renewal of the ethic of public service. Moreover, by redeploying all the ‘diversity and inclusion officers’ to jobs that involve serving the public, it would cut government spending without reducing the standard of our services.
How much would it save? A review by the Government Equalities Office in 2013 concluded that the original impact assessment was ‘wholly inadequate’ but did not provide a better figure. However, some NHS trusts have responded to recent freedom of information requests and we can extrapolate from them the possible total cost to the NHS. In 2022, the Solent NHS Trust, serving the Hampshire area, had seven staff in its diversity and inclusion team at an annual cost of £382,372. The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, based in Manchester, put the comparable cost at £231,611, and the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust reported five staff at an annual cost of at least £301,681.
There are 227 NHS trusts in England and if they all spent the lowest of these figures, £231,611, the total cost would be £52.6 million, close to the 2021 estimate produced by the Taxpayers Alliance of £49 million.
The average salary of a nurse is about £35,000, and £52.6 million would allow another 1,500 nurses to be employed.
Similar savings across the whole public sector would doubtless make the choices facing the Chancellor a lot less eyewatering.