Do we need a focal point – such as a figurehead positions, dedicated groups/taskforces or specific pieces of legislation – for change to happen on specific (equality-based) issues in the public sector?
I ask this for 5 reasons:
- The Winterbourne View Joint Improvement Programme has lurched from one disappointment to another without having made any obvious difference to the lives of the people it was meant to improve
- The Minister for Disabled People is a position that has existed since 1974, but (a) generally remains a stepping stone to “higher” office, (b) has very regular changes of people in it, (c) holds many other departmental responsibilities that have nothing to do with disability (e.g. child support or health and safety), (d) has very little influence across government, especially in Cabinet (it isn’t a Cabinet position)*.
- The Office for Disability Issues, established in 2001, has many similar attributes to those of the Minister it serves, the Minister for Disabled People. (See also the Government Equalities Office)
- The Autism Act 2009 put legal duties on local councils and the NHS regarding the services and support available for people with autism, but a 2013 review by the National Autistic Society found implementation of the Act’s goals to be very varied
- The (UK) Equal Pay Act, which prohibited any less favourable treatment between men and women in terms of pay and conditions of employment, was passed in 1970. In 2012 the UK’s gender pay gap (according to the Office for National Statistics) was 10.5%.
Of course, there are many other examples I could have cited.
It’s a complex question, of course; any question relating to how change happens in the public sector or in society at large always is
Nevertheless I’ll have a go at an answer: a focal point for equality-based issues is indeed necessary, but nowhere near sufficient.
*There has been a strong and regular call for an equivalent “Minister for Older People”, which, based on the precedent of the MfDP, I think would be a step backwards rather than the difference people hope it would be.