Economists at the respected World Economic Forum (WEF) have kicked the UK out of the world's top 20 countries for gender equality. Their report in November 2014, The Global Gender Gap, measures something more intriguing than wealth: the gap between men and women's life chances. In other words, how much opportunity in a given country is governed by gender. You won't be surprised Saudi Arabia didn't make the top 20 either.
Today we will see a coach and horses arrive at Parliament. Not so unusual, but on this occasion it will ride through the spirit of change left by the last Labour government. The Equality Act 2010 was a landmark piece of legislation which simplified, strengthened and extended protection from discrimination. One of the most persistent areas of inequality – first addressed by Labour over 40 years ago – is the gender pay gap.
The Equal Pay Act of 1970 sought to remedy the fact that women were systematically paid less than men. Yet last year, instead of narrowing, the gap actually widened slightly by 0.1%. This figure might seem small but not only are we riding in entirely the wrong direction, we are also witnessing significant hidden regional and sectoral variations. In London for example, women are now paid 13% less than men. And across the UK, women in full-time employment in the private sector are paid a staggering 20% less than their male counterparts.
I was delighted to speak on behalf of the Labour front bench in the Lords covering an Education debate on “British Values”. Here’s my take on it:
Who forced Michael Gove into a massive u-turn? In 2007 he said “‘There is something rather unBritish about seeking to define Britishness’. Now he has decided not only to define Britishness, but to legally require every British school to define Britishness and “promote British values”.
Everyone agrees that British values around the rule of law, individual liberty, and tolerance, helped create of one of the world's oldest and most successful democracies. We're less agreed on the recent implication that a better understanding of, say, the Magna Carta, might sort out poor school governance in Birmingham. That's obviously a bit of a caricature, but the point is that shared British values should be instilled by example, not diktat. Moreover it feels like an Orwellian and distinctly un-British approach to do what the Government has done in the wake of the Trojan Horse affair, which is to tar an entire community with language taken from counter-terrorism strategies.