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Labour have failed to tackle inequality

May 22, 2009 5:27 PM

Impassioned Liberal Democrats argue for greater efforts to fight for equality: Last week the second reading of the Equalities Bill took place in Parliament. The bill attempts to tackle the high levels of inequality that have increased under the current Government. Lib Dem Spokesperson for Youth and Equalities, Lynne Featherstone, declared in her opening remarks "our quest for, and commitment to, a fairer and more open and equal world" is "the passion that drives and motivates Liberal Democrats".

She illustrated the need for action, arguing that women in full-time work are paid 17% less than men, and those in part-time work are paid 36% less. She emphasised the importance to tackling this problem of unifying and simplifying our equality laws.

Lynne criticised the Government for not going far enough in the bill. She argued a lot of important issues "are being left to Ministers". She stated powers to amend decisions on exceptions regarding age discrimination in the provision of goods and services, multiple discrimination and how equal pay should be measured "are being kicked into the long grass". She argued the protection of rights in the workplace should not be left to the convictions of the Minister of the day but instead enshrined in law. She suggested "powers left to a Minister in future will be powers for a Minister to undo what has been done today, if they should, by any chance, not share an equal conviction in the equality legislation."

Turning to income inequality Lynne argued that under this Labour Government inequality "has reached its highest levels since records began". She explained poverty and inequality are intrinsically linked and Labour failed to tackle this problem when they came to power. She said "a person born into a poor family now is more likely to remain poor throughout their adult life than a person born 30 years ago." She argued that under Labour the wealth of billionaires has tripled whilst average incomes have "barely changed, and the poor became poorer".

Evan Harris MP on conference podium

Evan Harris MP

Evan Harris spoke of the balance that needs to be struck between free speech and harassment. He argued that political correctness plays an important role in making racist, homophobic and other discriminatory terms unacceptable both in public and in private. However, he suggested that an individual's right to free speech must not be impeded. He recognised "that some religious organisations, for example, need to be able to explain their views on sexual orientation or the religious beliefs of others." He suggested some laws go too far and "could lead to bizarre prosecutions or investigations by the police".

Evan also criticised religious discrimination in our education system. He argued the ability of schools to discriminate and segregate on the basis of religion is not compatible with the public duty to provide "equality of opportunity". He said "in an area containing, say, four schools, where one has a religious intake and can segregate and discriminate, children or families adhering to the religion concerned can choose any of those four schools, while everyone else has a choice of only three."