[Taken from my e-newsletter, to sign up click here]
Today sees the Second Reading of the Equality Bill in the House of Commons, and it is this I mainly wish to talk about this week.
Obviously however, people are rightfully talking about MPs expenses and the abuse that has been uncovered in recent weeks and months. I was out and about in Tooting, Balham, Earlsfield and Wandsworth Common this weekend, and I know that most residents are more worried about the economy and how it affects their jobs, homes and families.
Reassuringly, the dozens of residents I spoke to locally are happy with my expenses, but concerned about reports in the media about other politicians of all parties.
Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about this already, so I’ll try not to add much to them. Suffice to say I have always believed MPs should lead by example, and have been extremely disappointed by recent events. I have refused a recent pay-rise, live in Tooting, do not claim money for a second home and only claim for costs associated with running my offices in Tooting and Westminster. I have opposed attempts to water-down the Freedom of Information Act and prevent it applying to MPs, and recent attempts to keep MPs addresses secret from members of the public.
Regular e-news readers will know I have always been honest about the way I use your money – writing about my own expenses in past emails. For a breakdown of my expenses you can visit my website here.
There are serious problems with the current expenses system and there have been those who have abused it. Let’s clean it up, move on and get to work on the things that really matter: the economy, crime, public services, and making Britain a fairer place.
The Equality Bill
Before becoming the Member of Parliament for Tooting I used to be a lawyer. I often acted for people who had been discriminated against at work because they were a woman or from an ethnic minority. Sometimes the discrimination was due to their religion or due to a disability.
This afternoon is the Second Reading of the Equality Bill.
Currently there are nine separate pieces of primary legislation and 100 other sources from which the law covering this area is drawn. These were great tools for us lawyers, but hopeless for citizens who wanted to know their rights, or employers who need to know their responsibilities. Because of this discrimination is still a fact of life for thousands of people.
Women are paid on average 23% less than men per hour; people with disabilities are twice as likely to be out of work; people from ethnic minority backgrounds are nearly 1/5 less likely to be able to find work and one in five older people are refused quotes for motor or travel insurance, or car hire.
The Equality Bill will bring together existing measures to tackle Gender, Race and Disability, and expand the law to cover Sexuality, Gender Reassignment, Age, Religion and Belief, going further than ever before to make our society more equal and just.
This will mean that:
• public bodies will have to be transparent about their hiring practises and how much they pay their employees – putting this information in the public domain will force employers to change their behaviour;
• an end to age-discrimination in public services and in insurance practices;
• employers will be able to consider under-representation of certain groups in their company when choosing between two equally qualified candidates;
• teachers will have a duty to prevent homophobic bullying, by not shying away from discussions about it in the classroom and promoting equality between all students.
These are just a few highlights from the Bill. You can read more here.
This isn't about helping minority groups - it's about promoting equality for everyone. When you add up all the groups this Bill helps you soon realise the majority of people will benefit at some point in their lives.
I entered politics to help make our society fairer and improve the quality of life of all citizens. Legislation like this changes behaviour, and can lead to huge improvements in the way people are treated; whether it’s in better maternity and paternity rights or a minimum wage.
I think the opposition parties are making a huge mistake opposing these plans. In years to come I suspect we will look back with pride at the Single Equality Act the same way we do with the National Minimum Wage.