Equality

I continue to fight on many levels as part of my action against inequality and discrimination, focussing specifically on age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, opportunity or disability. The Speaker’s Conference, which was set up in November 2008, has given me the opportunity to join other MPs who seek to rid the inequalities people face not only in the UK, but in Parliament too; equality of opportunity for people with disabilities, women, and ethnic minorities are among my top priorities. Through my work with the Liberal Democrat Women’s Policy Working Group I am committed to equal rights for women specifically – regarding pay, benefits, maternity and careers, as well as body image and the media. The information below highlights some of my actions in more detail.

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Speaker’s Conference

On 12 November 2008 the House agreed to establish a new committee, to be chaired by the Speaker, and known as the Speaker’s Conference. The Conference has been asked to: “Consider, and make recommendations for rectifying, the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large”. It may also agree to consider other associated matters.

As a member of the Speaker’s Conference since its inception, I meet with other MPs on a regular basis to discuss how we can make Parliament more representative of the UK as whole. I passionately believe that in order to make laws which are good for the country, Parliament must represent people from all different parts of our national community.

For more information on the Speaker’s Conference, please follow the link below.

Gender

Women face pressure from all directions these days. Hit hard by the recession, trying to juggle family commitments with work and home life, it’s easy to feel like you’re running just to stand still. The media screams out an endless list of things still to do: get a bikini body in 20 days, plan the perfect children’s party, how to look 10 years younger. Despite great strides forward in equality, women still get paid less than men, and generally still end up taking more responsibility for childcare and looking after elderly relatives. This can be hugely rewarding, but combining this with a job can seem almost impossible.

As Chairperson of the Liberal Democrat Women’s Policy Working Group, my colleagues and I are tackling the broad range of problems women in today’s society face – from the gender pay gap to the media and body image. We recently launched a policy paper which demonstrates how we propose to combat these issues – click on the below link to download the report.

Ethnicity

Ethnic minorities are under-represented in the UK political system, and I feel strongly that one of the best ways to break down barriers and eliminate discrimination on grounds of ethnicity is to increase the representation of BME communities in Parliament,so we can be assured that all sections of society can be heard. Politics can only be improved and strengthened by drawing on a wider pool of talent.

It is important that we stand up to hatred, racism and oppression in the UK and beyond, not only as Members of Parliament but as a society as a whole.

Recent research has shown that many employers are less likely to invite a candidate to interview if they have a foreign-sounding name. The Liberal Democrats have proposed ‘no name policy’ for employers, whereby candidates for jobs would put their national insurance numbers on application forms rather than their names. This would help to prevent unconscious discrimination against ethnic minorities as well as women.

Sexual Orientation

It often seems as though ‘equality’ is inexorably linked with gender and race equality, while the discrimination of certain groups is ignored. Sexual orientation and gender identity are issues which also affect a person’s life and unfortunately can cause them to be discriminated against.

The Liberal Democrats proudly stand for equality for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual members of society, as part of creating a more inclusive and tolerant country. I fully believe that a more diverse society, and indeed a more diverse Parliament, is a richer one.

In two recent Parliamentary debates, I called on the Government to stop deporting gay Iranians back to Iran, where they face persecution, torture, and even execution. Despite the fact that around 4,000 Iranians have been executed since 1979 by the Iranian government for being gay, the official Home Office guidance says that “it is not accepted that there is systematic repression of gay men and lesbians”, and in June 2008 the then Home Secretary justified the Government’s refusal to offer asylum to gay Iranians, saying that there was no “real risk” to homosexuals who were deported to Iran if they behaved “discreetly”. The Liberal Democrats are campaigning to change this apalling law. 

Disability

There are many areas in which disabled people are unfairly disadvantaged, such as in employment, in the negative attitudes they encounter frequently, as well as the added cost of living with a disability.

I am committed to making sure provisions are put in place to end the social and economic exclusion of disabled people. The political system also ought to listen to the voices of its disabled citizens, who should have a fair and equal say in the running of the country. They can provide politicians with a valuable insight into the particular needs and concerns of disabled people living in the UK today, and communication is paramount if we are to strive towards providing quality, accessible services to all.

Age

It is time that politicians recognised the valid contribution that can be made by people of all ages and in many walks of life.

It is sad that due to the actions of a few, young people are often seen as hooligans. We need young people to play an active and positive role in society, and so we need to treat them with respect. That is why I have been campaigning to lower the voting age to 16.

The Government’s recent Equality Bill allows providers of goods and services to discriminate against young people. While rules relating to alcohol and cigarette sales necessarily treat young people differently, young people need recourse to the law in cases where the discrimination is clearly unfair.

Similarly, more needs to be done to protect the elderly, one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Older members of society are disproportionately affected by certain issues such as rising fuel bills and tax rates – these must be addressed. Please follow the link below to find out more about my actions to get a better deal for pensioners.

Religion

Everyone should have the right to practice their religion freely without fear of persecution, and the Liberal Democrats recognise the value of diversity in communities, workplaces and indeed the political system. People with differing religious beliefs are more than capable of coming together to help improve the world we live in.

Our focus must be on educating people to be tolerant and respectful of the views of others; while recognition must be made of the important contribution made by religious institutions such as churches, mosques and synagogues to the wellbeing of many in the communities they serve.

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