The charity Turn2Us revealed yesterday that parents of 1 in 5 children are unable to buy their little ones’ Christmas presents without plunging into debt, we can imagine the realities, the anguish and the heartbreak.
Earlier this morning Marcus Rashford’s mum, Mel Maynard, was interviewed about having three jobs and still not being able to put food on the table at times. She spoke of a lived experience that is all too common - half of all people in poverty are in working households.
What these two stories have in common is that they cut across working class people of all backgrounds, bringing facts and reality together.
Bizarrely, the equalities minister Liz Truss has chosen this moment to launch a war against facts and lived experience.
She gave a speech this afternoon declaring that the equality debate must be “led by facts… not by fashion” and will hit out at the dominance of “identity politics, loud lobby groups and the idea of lived experience”.
By pitching towards socio-economic disadvantage, Truss is setting up ‘the working class’ in competition with tackling inequality as it affects parts of society like women, BME communities, LGBT+ and people with disabilities.
It is classic divide-and-rule tactics, aimed to distract white working class people from the common barriers they experience alongside families like Marcus Rashford’s.
The working class are the most racially-diverse socio-economic category, and disadvantages suffered by those in a protected characteristic is intensified by inequality and poverty.
Rather than undermine work on equalities by dismissing it as ‘fashion’ or ‘woke’ and try to play communities off against each other, ministers should be using the forthcoming Employment Bill to ban exploitative employment practices such as zero hours contracts and give all workers a day one right to flexible working.
They should also act on tackling class and income inequality by introducing the so called ‘socio-economic duty’ – a legal requirement for public sector organisations to put reducing inequality at the heart of all that they do.
Government’s refusal, over the past decade, to bring in that duty despite it being passed in the Equality Act speaks volumes.
We need to strengthen equalities laws, not weaken them
It simply isn’t possible to tackle poverty and regional inequality without recognising and taking action to remove the barriers that different groups experience.
This needs to start with steps to eliminate structural discrimination such as pay disparities suffered by BME, disabled and women workers.
The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the faultlines in our economy, with frontline NHS staff, carers, transport workers and cleaners being put at most risk. They are far more likely to form part of the very groups that the government seemingly now want to abandon.
From women losing their jobs due to lack of childcare to higher infection rates suffered by BME workers, a key reason why the crisis has disadvantaged certain groups even further is because equalities has largely been off the government agenda.
Ministers' real agenda is to strip away yet more ‘red tape’ regulation in post-Brexit Britain to shift even more power away from workers, giving them less ability to challenge unfairness and less information about the extent of it.
Meanwhile executive pay will continue to rocket
A new report from the High Pay Centre has found that bosses at the top UK companies earn 100 times the rate of their lowest paid workers.
At Tesco, the CEO earns over £6 million while a quarter of their staff take home less than £20,000 in the same period.
This is where the facts about inequality contrast starkly with the fashion for fat cat pay.
The trade union movement knows that an attack on any working people is an attack on all, and that the stripping away of rights from any minority is closely followed by a further peeling away of workers’ rights.
Instead of acting to tackle socio economic inequality and banning zero hours contracts, we are seeing ministers indulge in the latest aspect of the culture war.
It is bound to fail.
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