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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Public Sector Duty to Promote Gender Equality

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

At a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Sex Equality on 22nd November Meg gave the following address.

 

I’m pleased to be here and have the opportunity to talk about our proposals for a public sector duty to promote gender equality.

 

Recognising the time since the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 people may say we have gender equality.  We know that more women are now in the labour market - helped by flexible working and increased childcare provision. Girls are outperforming boys at school and more are participating in subjects like science and technology. The numbers of young women going to university is increasing year on year, and as we know, graduates command the bigger salaries.

 

But we also know that in reality women still come second in the workplace. We know that men also face inequalities, particularly if they want to achieve a good balance between work and family responsibilities. 

 

The Government recognises that men and women have different needs in relation to many public services - such as health, education, transport, crime prevention, the criminal justice system.  Some public authorities are already working to meet these differing needs, some are not. Providing gender sensitive services and meeting individual requirements is an important part of delivering better services for both men and women. 

 

A good example of a public authority changing to meet the needs of its clients is the Pitstop scheme in Knowsley. This project enables men between 50 and 65 to get a free MOT style check-up in non-NHS venues - pubs, social clubs and workplaces.  Trained health advisers conduct a 40 minute health check covering blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking and drinking habits.

It’s in extending this approach that the public sector duty on gender equality - commonly known as the ‘gender duty’ - will make a difference.  Introducing this duty continues Government’s commitment to make gender equality a fact of life.  This duty, similar to the race and disability duties, concentrates on the public sector. This area has a big impact on the lives of men and women - services such as health, education and pensions.

 

I know many representatives of public authorities want this duty to work. I also know that some public authorities are ahead in addressing gender or wider equality issues than others, as Pitstop mentioned earlier. We have to ensure greater consistency throughout the public sector.  That is why we have decided on the need for a statutory obligation - to bring a vigorous and systematic approach to improve services.   

 

On 4th October I launched the Governments consultation document “Advancing Equality for Men and Women: Government proposals to introduce a public sector duty to promote gender equality”. (A catchy title if ever I heard one!). Much work has gone into developing these proposals, working closely with other government departments, the wider public sector and external stakeholders - especially the EOC - for which we are extremely grateful. 

 

We wanted to develop a pragmatic, proportionate duty which focuses on outcomes.  We also have to be realistic.  Current and future spending rounds are going to be tight, meaning that we all have to look at processes and procedures to see how they can effectively be mainstreamed, leading to positive outcomes.

 

Our proposals, in the consultation document, are centred round three main components:

Gender equality schemes.  Public authorities will be required to draw up and publish gender equality schemes.  This will enable them to review their activities and decide what action is required to promote equality of opportunity for men and women, and show how it will implement them.  This will be done in consultation with employees and stakeholders, followed by three-yearly reviews.  

Public authorities must have the freedom to prioritise and set their own targets.   We will be encouraging them to consider aligning them with wider equality priorities - reducing the pay gap for example.

 

The second component is equal pay arrangements. This requires public authorities to develop and publish policy on their equal pay arrangements - including measures to ensure fair promotion and development opportunities.

 

Much is already being done in the public sector regarding equal pay. Public authorities have developed their own pay and grading systems - for example, NHS has the ‘Agenda for Change’ for non-medical staff.  We say to public authorities who are already taking action - ‘why not make accessible any existing information about your equal pay arrangements?’ 

Although public authorities should have the freedom to decide how best to meet these requirements, we believe that an effective policy should cover the following areas:

  • a commitment to the principle of equal pay between women and men.
  • arrangements for reviewing pay, perhaps including formal pay reviews.
  • a commitment to act on the result of the review.

The third component is impact assessments. Public authorities will be required to assess the impact on men and women of any new legislation and policies, and these must be published.  This will help re-enforce gender equality considerations in areas of public sector work.

We need to be pragmatic.  In the consultation document we have outlined the areas to be covered when conducting a full gender impact assessment. There may be instances where a public authority is unsure as to whether a full gender impact assessment has to be conducted.  We have suggested that public authorities could subject these to an initial screening on the impact they will have on women and men. This should be a straightforward exercise using existing data and the results should be published.

In applying the gender duty, public authorities will be establishing a culture change by:

  • Consulting with their employees and stakeholders.
  • being open, transparent and be accountable in whatever they do.
  • demonstrating commitment to gender equality.

 

Our goal is greater equality between the sexes.  It makes good sense for business, the economy and last and by no means least - society.

 

I know that you will have questions, perhaps prompted by the EOC’s briefing note. I also hope that you will send in your views to Ian Shaw/Barbara Lindsay at the Women and Equality Unit by 12 January. 


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