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Equality and Public Policy
Exploring the Impact of Devolution in the UK
By Paul Chaney
University of Wales PressCopyright © 2011 Paul Chaney
All rights reserved.
Introduction: Equalities and Public Policy
1.0 Equalities and Public Policy
1.1 Contemporary Developments
1.1.1 Equalities Law
1.2 Why Bother About it?
1.2.1 Making the Case for Equalities
1.2.2 A 'Minority' Issue?
1.3 Equalities in a (Quasi-) Federal UK
1.4 The structure of this volume
1.0 Equalities and Public Policy
Equality of opportunity is an often misunderstood and contested concept; deeply political in nature it evokes strong reactions from proponents and opponents alike (Temkin, 1993; Freeden, 1994). It is an example of what Newman, (2001: 59) terms 'wicked issues'. These are characterised by: differing interpretations of the social problem to be addressed; the fact that the relationship between different factors is sometimes hard to assess; they span traditional policy frames; and, require collaboration between agencies in both formulating and implementing policy responses. In the face of such challenges, the Equality Act (2006, Section 3) sets out a vision of an equal society as one in which:
(a) People's ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination.
(b) There is respect for and protection of each individual's human rights.
(c) There is respect for the dignity and worth of each individual.
(d) Each individual has an equal opportunity to participate in society.
(e) There is mutual respect between groups based on understanding and valuing of diversity and on shared respect for equality and human rights.
The different dimensions to the concept of equality (see chapter 2) underpin the growing use of the term 'equalities' (Carabine, 2004; Bowes, 2006; Department for Local Government and Communities, 2007; Håkan, 2008; Carr, 2008). It is the general practice adopted in this volume for it recognises the contrasting needs and experiences of discrimination within and between diverse social groups. The following analysis therefore aims to move away from traditional approaches that have tended to treat 'gender' as a discrete policy issue. Instead, this volume aims to offer an holistic analysis; simultaneously examining gender (in)equality whilst also exploring 'equalities' 'in the round' by mapping policy developments in relation to a range of 'strands' including disability, age, faith, ethnicity, language and sexual orientation.
A vast and burgeoning literature centres on 'public policy' (e.g. Parsons, 1996; Hill, 2004; Dorey, 2005; Sabatier, 2006; Moran, Rein and Goodin, 2008; Hill and Hupe, 2008). It too is the subject of many contrasting definitions. At its simplest 'policy' can be seen as 'a course of action adopted and pursued by a government, party, ruler, states[wo]man etc; any course of action adopted as advantageous or expedient' (Hill, 1997: 6). In reality, it is often highly complex: involving a 'web of decisions'; it is something that continues to evolve after the initial decision-making; it involves implementation, adjustment and feedback; and is dynamic rather than static (Hill, 1997, op. cit.). The prefix 'public' simply refers to the fact that the state and/or state institutions are the 'owners' of a given policy and that, in consequence, it is backed by the resources and legal processes of the state. John (1998: 2) offers a more sophisticated definition that emphasises its political provenance:
Public policy seeks to explain the operation of the political system as a whole ... The policy-orientated approach looks at public decision-making from the viewpoint of what comes out of the political process ... one of the purposes of the policy-orientated approach is to sharpen up analysis of politics by examining the links between decision-makers as they negotiate and seek influence in the government system.
Analysis of public policy can therefore be seen as a way of interrogating organised activity; an approach sometimes referred to as the 'social construction perspective':
This sees policy as something that has been constructed and sustained by participants in circumstances where they are likely to have choices about which interpretive map to use, which cues to follow. It draws upon work in a wide range of social sciences ... all of which ask, 'what makes for collective action'? ... the concept of policy both explains and validates ... action: it explains what people are doing, and it makes it appropriate for them to do it. (Colebatch, 2002: 20)
In addition to social constructionism, the comparative analysis in this book also draws upon a range of analytical frameworks to explore equality policy developments (see for example, Yanow, 1999; Fischer, 2003a; Weimer and Vining, 2004; Prokhovnik, 2005; Dunn, 2007; Bardach, 2008). These focus on:
Setting the policy agenda.
Understanding the nature of the problem(s) to be addressed.
Policy venues, institutions and governance (inter alia: where policy is formulated and decided upon; as well as the role of networks and institutions).
Policy content/policy discourse (a post-empiricist, interpretive approach that examines the language of policy documents and how dominant ideas are negotiated and framed).
Implementation (how policy ideas are operationalised through public administration with reference to instrumental analysis, i.e. how policy outcomes can be monitored, measured and assessed).
Before presenting an overview of the analysis in each chapter, attention is first placed on contemporary legal and institutional developments, and the case for promoting equalities.
1.1 Contemporary Developments
The past decade in the UK has been marked by unprecedented and wide-ranging measures to promote equality. A number of factors have led to this unparalleled focus on equalities. They include:
Legal directives from the European Commission (e.g. age, sexual orientation and faith directives on discrimination in employment).
The racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, the official recognition of the concept of institutional racism and the subsequent legal requirement for wholesale change in 'race' equality practices in Britain.
The signing on 10 April 1998 of the Belfast, or 'Good Friday' Agreement, putting in place measures to end the civil conflict in Northern Ireland.
Continued pressure on government from new social movements and others concerned with identity politics.
The rise of Islamaphobia and communal tensions along lines of faith.
Increasing longevity and greater awareness of ageism and disability.
Debates on community cohesion (particularly in relation to Northern Ireland and in the wake of urban riots in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham in 2001).
1.1.1 Equalities Law
Reference to the substantial number of equalities laws passed over recent years underlines extent of the political (re-)prioritisation of tackling discrimination and promoting equality. Thus, for example, the Race Relations Amendment Act (2000) signalled a general move to 'fourth generation' equality duties, requiring anticipatory and proactive measures to promote equality, in contrast to earlier anti-discrimination statutes that, retrospectively, set out redress for individual wrongs (see chapter 6). As noted, in accordance with European Commission Directives, in 2003, the Westminster government passed UK-wide Employment Equality Regulations on Religion or Belief and Sexual Orientation, followed in 2006 by the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations. In addition, the Civil Partnership Act (2004) gave legal recognition to same-sex partnerships for the first time. In 2005, the original Disability Discrimination Act (1995) was extended and updated, and set out new rights for disabled people. In order to achieve greater consistency in the legal protection afforded to different equality 'strands', the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (2007) made sexual orientation discrimination unlawful in the provision of goods and services. In addition, the Act (2006, s83) introduced a long-promised general 'gender' duty on public authorities in carrying out their functions to promote equality of opportunity between men and women, and to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment. Further significant legal changes are underway. The proposed Welsh Language Measure (2010) aims to give equal status to the Welsh language as well as create the office of language commissioner. Moreover, a more integrated legal framework around equalities for Britain is promised under the provisions of the Equality Bill (2009) currently before the UK parliament, and work is continuing on a Single Equality Bill for Northern Ireland.
In addition to the foregoing legal developments, a significant number of new institutions have been created over the past decade with the aim of promoting equalities. For example, under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act (1998), the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission were established. In 2001, the Children's Commissioner for Wales was appointed, the first office of its kind in the UK. In order to enforce the law on additional learning needs the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for Wales was established in 2003. Subsequently, the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act (2005) led to the creation of Bòrd na Gàidhlig (the Gaelic Language Board) in 2006. In relation to Britain as whole, 2007 saw the former Disability Rights Commission, Equal Opportunities Commission and Commission for Racial Equality replaced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. More recently, in 2008, the Scottish Commission for Human Rights was established. In the same year, a new department was created in UK government, the Equalities Office, with its self-stated mission 'to put equality at the heart of Government'. Also, in 2008, the Older People's Commissioner for Wales was appointed under the terms of the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Act (2006). In addition to these developments, the 1998–9 devolution programme saw the creation of legislatures for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. As this volume outlines, each has also impacted on the promotion of equality in public policy.
1.2 Why Bother About It?
Against the background of these recent legal and institutional changes, it is pertinent to question why the promotion of equalities is deserving of such attention? Not all see contemporary developments in this area as welcome or necessary. Various arguments have been used against promoting equalities. For example, those advancing the notion of meritocracy argue for a laissez-faire approach, asserting that individuals with the necessary skills and abilities will secure jobs and other posts that match their capabilities regardless of any barriers or prevailing structures and processes of discrimination (Cavanagh, 2002). 'Political correctness' is a further common attack made on equalities, whereby it is claimed designated activities are overly shaped not by considerations of effectiveness but by 'whether those activities offend (or are uncomfortable for) the sensibilities of others' (Furedy, 2002: 333). The 'political correctness critique' is also often founded on the trivialisation of the actual issues under consideration, the villainisation of those involved, conferring a sense of legitimacy on those opposed to the promotion of equalities (Ayim, 1998: 451), as well as the notion of 'oppressive petty bureaucracy ... advancing some groups above others' (DLGC, 2007a: 93).
1.2.1 Making the Case for Equalities
In response those opposed to, or critical of, the promotion of equalities, a number of key arguments have been advanced (see Figure 1.1). The latter include economic arguments, issues of social cohesion, moral/ethical arguments, concerns for social justice, and democratic cases for policy interventions to end discrimination and inequality.
The economic case is partly based upon the idea of social diversity as a resource (Dickens, 1994; Business in the Community, 1993; CBI, 1996; Humphries and Rubery, 1995). This emphasises that different social groups possess varying rich forms of human capital and bring a wider range of skills and viewpoints to economic life than is the case when traditional reliance is placed on a comparatively homogeneous and unrepresentative pool of workers. In addition, the economic case asserts that ending the marginalisation of some groups in relation to the labour market (such as disabled people, for example) and increasing their consumer (and tax-paying) power through raised income boosts economic growth and reduces social welfare costs.
In contrast, the social cohesion argument is based upon studies of urban conflict and unrest. It draws upon a research literature that suggests that 'overt conflict is especially likely if economic instability continues ... [such that] relative deprivation may lead to social conflict' (Freidrichs, 1998: 173; see also ECNI, 2005). Haylett (2003: 58) uses such empirical work to argue for policy responses based upon a 'politics of recognition', that is one sensitive to the interconnections between traditional equality 'strands' (e.g. ethnicity, faith, gender and so on) and economic inequality. He argues that 'recognition that economic differences are often inequalities, linked to cultural differences but not equivalent to them, allows for political priorities and discriminations between kinds of difference'.
The moral case for equalities stems from Enlightenment thinking that challenged earlier classical ideas of a natural human hierarchy; under the latter conception some groups and individuals were held as superior to others. Thinkers such as Locke (1690) and Rousseau (1762) advocated that all citizens posses equal natural rights to (self-) ownership and freedom. In a similar vein, Kantian moral philosophy claimed that the same freedoms should apply on an equal basis to all rational beings and be the sole principle of human rights (Kant, 1785). In this way, moral equality is concerned with treating individuals with equal respect, worth and dignity (Vlastos, 1962; Dworkin, 1977). A recent 'turn' in such egalitarian thought reflects a renewed focus on Aristotelian concerns over whether individual citizens are leading sufficiently 'good lives'. In other words, proponents assert that the policy focus should be on ensuring that people have enough to flourish (Brown, 1988; Cohen, 1989; Scheffler, 2003). Wolff (2007: 129) explains this moral dimension to equality in a way that links to Sen's 'capabilities approach' (Sen, 1997; see chapter 2). He states that 'evaluation of how well an individual's life is going ... should measure neither the resources someone has, nor the welfare they are able to derive, but their 'capability to function'. Here a 'function' is held to equate to what a person can do or be (e.g. achieving nourishment, health, a decent lifespan, self-respect and so on) and a 'capability' is the freedom to achieve a function. As Sen (1997: 482) asserts, 'basic capability equality is a guide to the part of moral goodness that is associated with the idea of equality'.
According to Wolff (2007: 17), 'commonly it is assumed that social justice is in some way connected with ideas of equality, but how an idea of equality is to be formulated, and the relationship between social justice and equality, remain disputed'. Miller (2001:32) addresses this issue by asserting that the social justice case for equalities is based on claims for the equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of society. This view stems in part stems from Rawls (1971) who argued that there are two main tenets of justice: all should have equal rights to extensive liberty, and social and economic equalities should be distributed in order that they are of the greatest benefit to the most disadvantaged. Thus, Miller (1997: 237) summarises the relationship between the two concepts: 'equality can shape the practice of social justice ... [because] equal citizenship – and the concrete rights that attach to it [–] provide an essential starting point from which moves towards a wider social equality can be made'. In this way, as Young (1990: 174) asserts:
Social justice entails democracy. Persons should be involved in collective discussion and decision-making in all settings that depend on their commitment, action and obedience to rules ... Not only do just procedures require group representation in order to ensure that oppressed or disadvantaged groups have a voice, but such representation is also the best means to promote just outcomes of the deliberative process ... justice in a group-differentiated society demands social equality of groups, and mutual recognition and affirmation of group differences.
Excerpted from Equality and Public Policy by Paul Chaney. Copyright © 2011 Paul Chaney. Excerpted by permission of University of Wales Press.
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