Turnover in the role of Minister for Women and Equalities, and its part-time nature, risks undermining the effectiveness of equality policy and giving the impression that equalities issues are peripheral to day to day Government, says the Women and Equalities Committee.
The constant movement of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) around Whitehall is also unsustainable if the office is going to be an effective engine of change towards a more equal society, the Committee says.
Since 1997, the policy function for women and equalities issues has been located in eight different government departments. In the last two years alone, four different Ministers based in three different departments have held the brief for Women and Equalities. The most recent change in leadership, with Penny Mordaunt taking on the role after Amber Rudd’s departure, has led to a situation where the ministerial team is split across two departments and the civil servants supporting them are in a third department.
The Committee, in its report published today, says that each move brings disruption, delay and incurs costs. MPs state that, as well as stability, the GEO needs resources, ministerial time and authority for a truly cross-governmental role that should encompass all equalities issues including race, age and disability. To achieve this, the Committee recommends that the GEO and the Minister for Women and Equalities should be based in the Cabinet Office.
Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, said: “The conveyor belt of ministers and continual upheaval at the GEO has caused unnecessary disruption, delay and is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
“Equality affects people’s daily lives throughout this country. With the gender pay gap still too high, women facing sexual harassment and serious inequalities faced by BAME people, LGBT groups and people with disabilities, we need the GEO to focus on tackling these burning injustices not continual departmental moves and reorganisation. The structures and leadership that the Government has in place to deal with these issues matter.
“Leading on equalities across Government needs to be a full-time role, not an add-on to a busy Secretary of State’s portfolio. Being based in the Cabinet Office would give the GEO a stable platform from which to be effective across Government.
“We look forward to hearing how the new Minister views her role when she comes to give evidence to us later this month.”
The Committee recommends: A Cabinet sub-committee for equalities should be established and a cross government equalities strategy developed, both led by the Minister for Women and Equalities. GEO should be represented separately and distinctly within the financial accounts and departmental plan of its current home department.
The GEO’s next move should be to the Cabinet Office. There, it should co-ordinate and monitor work across Whitehall on all areas of equalities, with a remit to hold individual departments’ feet to the fire on delivering equality policy in their own areas. The post of Minister for Women and Equalities should find a home in the Cabinet Office as a full-time role.