Outrage as Tory equalities minister claims race and gender issues are ‘fashionable’

Joanna Taylor
Friday 18 December 2020 08:24
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(Leon Neal/Getty Images)

People are explaining why fighting for equality and defending their “hard-won freedoms” is more than just a fashion statement after a controversial announcement by the Tory equalities minister.

Liz Truss said that “the equality debate” should be “led by facts, not by fashion” while unveiling a data programme focussed on assessing issues of class and regional inequality.

She went on to say:

“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.”

Protected characteristics include race, sexual orientation, sex, gender reassignment and disability.

She also claimed that “underlying [the current approach] is the soft bigotry of low expectations, where people from certain backgrounds are never expected or considered able enough to reach high standards.”

Truss failed to acknowledge the deep-rooted intersections between issues of race, gender and sexuality with class and poverty; nor did she admit that the fight for social justice has lasted centuries – it is not just a modern-day fashion trend.

Truss’s speech represents renewed pushback against liberal conceptions of social progress and could reportedly herald the end of quotas, targets and diversity statements.

Tories have already waded into the “culture war” several times this year, for instance by criticising the National Trust for acknowledging their properties’ ties to slavery and colonialism and imploring the BBC to include the lyrics to songs like ‘Rule, Britannia!’ at the Last Night of the Proms.

They also recently scrapped unconscious bias training for civil servants.

Truss’s remarks sparked a backlash as people pointed out that the minister for women and equalities should probably try to represent those who face the most discrimination.

Truss’s dismissal of the “fashionable” focus on protected characteristics is all the more ironic given the glaring issues in her own department where the gender pay gap has widened under her leadership.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson – who has a history of making offensive and derogatory statements himself – has not appointed a female minister to lead the coronavirus press briefing for six months.

So the Tories should probably focus on their own issues with social justice and those of poverty and class-based inequality, especially given that under their leadership food aid is being provided to British children by Unicef for the first time

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