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Coalition equality pledges published

Unveiling their much anticipated 35 page policy document, the new Coalition Government has outlined their policies on equality. Of significance is their pledge to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. Previously this right was only available to working parents. The newly formed government will now seek advice from business leaders on how best to implement the measures.

The document entitled “The Coalition - our programme for government” outlines specific policies on equality. This may come as a huge relief to equality practitioners, considering that the Conservatives were quite muted in this arena during the election. Diversity practitioners had feared a regression towards the non-progressive Tory stance on equalities experienced during their previous stints in power.
As well as their pledge on flexible working the Coalition have also stated their intent to tackle equal pay, gender equality on boards, increasing ethnic diversity within Whitehall and the introduction of a mentoring scheme for ethnic minorities wishing to start their own enterprises.
Though widely welcomed, the measures have been criticised by the Fawcett Society, a leading campaigning body for women’s rights. Spokeswoman Daisy Sands has accused the new administration’s policy document of being “preciously light” on detail. She comments:-
“ When it comes to equality between men and women, it name-checks several of the key issues but fails to commit to taking real action, Nor is there any mention of the Human Rights Act, which plays a vital role in safeguarding women's rights, or the recent Equality Act, which provides important practical steps for women facing discrimination."
The new government’s silence on the Human Rights Acts is a concern. This issue had divided the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives prior to the election, when the Tories had pledged to rip up the act. This has now been compromised since the coalition agreement. It will be interesting to see how the Conservatives respond to new pressure to repeal the act, piled on by the Tory press and the traditional Tory support. The debate on this issue has been fuelled since two convicted terrorists avoided deportation due to protection from the act. Should the Conservatives pursue their pre-election pledge it could be a defining statement of their equality and human rights agenda.
While the policy document eases speculation on government priorities it’s important to note that all the pledges come with one major caveat. On the final page of the document it notably reads:-
“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement, and the speed of implementation of any measures that have a cost to the public finances will depend on decisions to be made in the Comprehensive Spending Review.”
So we wait with bated breath to see what impact the emergency budget will have on these policy pledges. Many will become meaningless without resources behind them. We should, meanwhile, welcome the proposed changes on flexible working. It is certainly a positive step in the progressive direction for this new administration.

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