Liz Truss calls for 'facts not fashion' and to 'move beyond' race or gender in equality fight

·3-min read

Tackling inequality should be "led by facts not by fashion" and the government intends to "move well beyond" focusing on issues of sex, race and gender reassignment, a cabinet minister has said.

Liz Truss, the women and equalities minister, used a speech on Thursday to set out a "new approach to equality in this country", which she said would be "founded firmly on Conservative values".

She outlined an aim to "move well beyond the narrow focus" of protected characteristics, which are defined in law as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

"While it is true people in these groups suffer discrimination, the focus on protected characteristics has led to a narrowing of the equality debate that overlooks socio-economic status and geographic inequality," Ms Truss said.

"This means some issues - particularly those facing white working-class children - are neglected."

She highlighted a "deeper wage gap between London and the regions than between men and women", as well as lower employment rates and life expectancy in the North than the South.

Ms Truss, who is also the international trade secretary, announced the government's Equality Hub would relocate to the north of England and would embark on the "biggest, broadest and most comprehensive equality data project yet".

"In addition to race, sex, disability and religion, it will also look at issues around geography, community and socio-economic background," she said.

The cabinet minister vowed the government's new approach would be "about individual dignity and humanity, not quotas and targets, or equality of outcome".

She added: "It will reject the approach taken by the Left, captured as they are by identity politics and loud lobby groups."

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Ms Truss bemoaned how "too often, the equality debate has been dominated by a small number of unrepresentative voices, and by those who believe people are defined by their protected characteristic, and not by their individual character".

"This school of thought says that if you are not from an 'oppressed group' then you are not entitled to an opinion, and that this debate is not for you," she said.

"I wholeheartedly reject this approach."

She hailed how the government this week announced neither it nor the civil service would continue to use unconscious bias training, which she claimed can "backfire by reinforcing stereotypes and exacerbating biases".

And Ms Truss attacked "symbolic gestures" such as Birmingham City Council's plan to name new streets "Diversity Grove" and "Equality Road".

She said Britain could not "waste time on misguided, wrong-headed and ultimately destructive ideas that take agency away from people".

Labour's shadow women and equalities secretary, Marsha de Cordova, branded Ms Truss's speech a "gratuitous provocation from a government that consistently refuses to face up to its responsibilities and the widening inequality it has caused".

"When Liz Truss dismisses 'fashionable' causes she actually dismisses the devastating impact of discrimination and unfairness in peoples' day to day lives," she said.

"This year has highlighted how important it is for people to come together.

"Instead of looking for new ways to divide communities and pining for an era of Thatcherite individualism, the Tories should focus on fixing the structural inequality that holds people back."