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Liz Truss defends her dismissal of 'fashionable' topics in equality debate

17 December 2020, 19:00

By Maddie Goodfellow

Trade and equalities minister Liz Truss has defended her comments that debates on equality should be 'led by facts, not by fashion', telling LBC 'what people want is real action on their concerns about discrimination, not symbolic gestures'.

On Thursday, Ms Truss said in a speech that the government has focused "too much on race, gender and sexuality issues at the expense of geographic inequality and class", and called for the equality debate to be "led by facts, not by fashion".

The women and equalities minister said it is "true people in these groups suffer discrimination".

But she said the focus on protected characteristics, laid out in the 2010 Equality Act, "has led to a narrowing of the equality debate that overlooks socio-economic status and geographic inequality".

Iain Dale questioned the minister on these assertions, saying: "Given this year has in many ways been the year of black lives matter, when you see a Daily Mail headline saying 'Equalities Minister Liz Truss slams focus on 'fashionable' race and gender issues and dismisses quotas and unconscious bias training as tools of the left,' this speech is not going to go down well with race and equality campaigners is it?"

She replied: "Well I think racial equality is something we care deeply about as a government. We've set up the mission on racial and ethnic disparities specifically to look at this.

"But what people in this country want is real action on their concerns about discrimination, they don't want the kind of symbolic gestures that have come to dominate this debate."

Liz Truss was grilled by Iain Dale
Liz Truss was grilled by Iain Dale. Picture: LBC

She continued: "This is about taking action whether it is on racism, sexism, geographic inequality that genuinely benefits people's lives.

"Whether it's facing high rates of crime, not being able to get a job because of your name or your accent, those are the types of issues that are important.

"I feel that a lot of the debate around racial equality has not been focused on the issues that really matter to people."

Her speech, titled The New Fight For Fairness, outlined a new approach to equality which she said would reject "identity politics and loud lobby groups".

During the speech, which she made to the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies think tank, Ms Truss said: "This means some issues - particularly those facing white working-class children - have been neglected."

She added: "It will focus fiercely on fixing geographic inequality, addressing the real problems people face in their everyday lives, using evidence and data.

"If you were born in Wolverhampton or Darlington, you have been underserved by successive governments.

"No more. Things must change and things will change. This new approach to equality will run through the DNA of this Government."

Iain then questioned Ms Truss over the issues surrounding unconscious Bias trining, which she stated "doesn't work".

"And you've said you're going to abolish all unconscious bias training, which you again regard as a 'tool of the left'," Iain said.

"But surely there is unconscious bias, particularly in job interviews, people do tend to appoint people like themselves. Surely this is a retrograde step?"

Ms Truss replied: "We know that unconscious bias training doesn't actually work. Lots of government departments have undertaken this raining and studies have shown that it doesn't have an impact.

"What actually has an impact is things like transparency over promotions, making sure that you make decisions on merit within a proper process, those things actually work.

"Whereas things like unconscious bias training, and quotas, have not been effective."

Ms Truss' speech has received fierce criticism from opposition politicians and equalities groups, with Labour's shadow women and equalities secretary Marsha de Cordova saying: "This is gratuitous provocation from a Government that consistently refuses to face up to its responsibilities and the widening inequality it has caused.

"When Liz Truss dismisses 'fashionable' causes she actually dismisses the devastating impact of discrimination and unfairness in people's day-to-day lives.

"It is laughable for the Conservatives to claim to care about class when they have frozen public sector pay, driven up poverty, and plan to cut Universal Credit and impose a council tax rise."

Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said Ms Truss was "presenting a false choice".

"Ministers must both tackle the barriers facing today's diverse working class, and act to end the additional discrimination and disadvantage affecting BME, women and disabled workers," she said.

Nancy Kelley, chief executive of LGBT charity Stonewall, said: "We can't separate experiences of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, sexism, ableism, and racism from socio-economic status and geographic location.

"To tackle one, we need to tackle the others."

Asked about Ms Truss's reported comments on focusing on class over race and sex, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I don't believe there's a suggestion that we will stop focusing on those issues that you just mentioned.

"Evidence shows however that racial disparities are often complex and affected by a range of factors including geography and age so we will be addressing those core issues that will benefit everyone as well."