‘The new fight for fairness’. Truss’s speech on the Government’s new equalities agenda – full text

17 Dec

This is the text of the speech Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, gave today.

“No matter your skin colour, sexuality, religion or anything else, the United Kingdom is one of the best places in the world to live.

The British story has been driven from its earliest days by the desire for liberty, agency, and fairness.

It is the notion that in Britain you will have the opportunity to succeed at whatever you wish to do professionally…

…that you can be whoever you want to be,

…dress however you want to dress,

…love whoever you wish to love

…and achieve your dreams.

But we must be honest. Our story is not yet complete. Our equality journey is not yet finished.

For too many people… particularly in places beyond the South East… opportunity is diminished.

For years, successive governments have either pretended that all opportunity was equal… or failed to come up with proper solutions … paying lip service to a problem that has festered for decades.

It was this government that finally tore down this social taboo when we were elected to level-up the country and toppled the Red Wall … turning it Blue.

We were elected partly on the promise of fixing the scourge of geographicinequality … and ensuring equal opportunity for all. There are still too manycases  where your destination in life is decided by where you started it.

So today, I am outlining a new approach to equality in this country.

This will be founded firmly on Conservative values.

It will be about individual dignity and humanity … not quotas and targets, or equality of outcome.

It will reject the approach taken by the Left … captured as they are by identity politics, loud lobby groups and the idea of ‘lived experience’.

It will focus fiercely on fixing geographic inequality … addressing the real problems people face in their everyday lives … using evidence and data.

If you were born in Clacton or Darlington, you have been under-served by successive governments. No more.

Things must change…and things will change.

This new approach to equality will run through the DNA of this government.

The moral and practical case for equality

For me, it is a moral and practical mission.

Just as our forebears fought for change, we must fight for change again – challenging what is unfair and unjust today.

It is not right that having a particular surname or accent can sometimes make it harder to get a job.

It is appalling that pregnant women suffer discrimination at work. Or that women may be encouraged to dress in a certain way to get ahead.

Or that some employers overlook the capabilities of people with disabilities.

It is outrageous in the 21st century that LGBT people still face harassment in public spaces.

As well as being a moral problem, it is shameful we are squandering so much talent.

  • If women opened businesses at the same rate as men – we could add £250bn to the economy…
  • If people of every ethnic group were fully represented across the labour market, that would mean an extra £24 billion of income a year.
  • If businesses were fully accessible for disabled consumers, they could benefit from an estimated £274 billion a year in spending power.

We can ill afford to waste this potential as we recover from Covid and build back better.

Equality rooted in Conservative values

Our new approach to equality will be based on the core principles of freedom, choice, opportunity, and individual humanity and dignity.

We will move well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics… and deliver real change that benefits people across our United Kingdom.

We will do this in three ways.

First, by delivering fairness through modernisation, increased choice and openness.

Second, by concentrating on data and research, rather than on campaigning and listening to those with the loudest voices.

And third, by taking our biggest and broadest look yet at the challenges we face… including the all too neglected scourge of geographic inequality.

Now is the time to root the equality debate in the real concerns people face… like affording a home… getting to work… going out safely at night… ending discrimination in our offices, factories and shop floors … and improving our schools so every child has a good chance in life.

It is our duty to deliver, because if right-thinking people do not lead the fight for fairness, then it will be led by those whose ideas don’t work.

The failed ideas of the Left

The ideas that have dominated the equality debate have been long in the making.

As a comprehensive school student in Leeds in the 1980s, I was struck by the lip service that was paid to equality by the City Council while children from disadvantaged backgrounds were let down.

While we were taught about racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write.

In this school of thought, there is no space for evidence, as there is no objective view – truth and morality are all relative.

Rather than promote policies that would have been a game-changer for the disenfranchised like better education and business opportunities, there was a preference for symbolic gestures.

Even now, authorities rush to embrace symbols – for example, Birmingham City Council promoting new streets named “Diversity Grove” and “Equality Road” – as if that counts as real change.

Underlying this is the soft bigotry of low expectations, where people from certain backgrounds are not expected to reach high standards.

This diminishes their individual humanity, dignity and agency.

And it hasn’t delivered the progress it promised.

In 1997, there was a huge celebration of all-women shortlists delivering Blair’s babes.

But 23 years later, the Labour Party still hasn’t had a female leader. In the last leadership election, there were four women standing… but the man won. Again.

In addition, this focus on groups at the expense of individuals has led to harmful unintended consequences.

It has led to the Left turning a blind eye to practices that undermine equality, whether it be failing to defend single-sex spaces, hard fought for by generations of women… enabling and tolerating antisemitism … or the appalling grooming of young girls in towns like Rotherham.

Although time and time again, the Left’s ideas have been shown to fail, they still pervade our body politic.

Study after study has shown that unconscious bias training does not improve equality, and in fact can backfire by reinforcing stereotypes and exacerbating biases.

That’s why this week we announced we will no longer be using it in government or civil service.

Whether it’s “affirmative action”… forced training on “unconscious bias”… or lectures on “lived experience”… the Left are in thrall to ideas that undermine equality at every turn.

The absurdity was summed up just this week by the Mayor of Paris being fined for employing so many female managers she had breached a quota.

By contrast, the Conservative Party has elected two female leaders, and has a Cabinet with the highest ever level of ethnic minority representation.

We have done this not by positively discriminating … but by positively empowering people who want to go into politics and opening up our Party to people of all backgrounds.

Because when you choose on the basis of protected characteristics, you end up excluding other people.

1. Fairness, not favouritism

Fairness, not favouritism, drives our approach to equality.

Too often, the equality debate has been dominated by a small number of unrepresentative voices, and by those who believe people are defined by their protected characteristic… and not by their individual character.

This school of thought says that if you are not from an ‘oppressed group’ then you are not entitled to an opinion… and that this debate is not for you.

I wholeheartedly reject this approach.

Equality is something everybody in the United Kingdom should care about… and something all of us have a stake in.

So, I am calling time on “pink bus” feminism, where women are left to fix sexism and campaign for childcare.

Rather than virtue signalling, or campaigning…this government is focused on delivering a fairer and more transparent society that works for all … and that delivers genuine equality of opportunity.

The work of American academic Iris Bohnet shows that modernising and making organisations more transparent is the best way to tackle inequality.

When things are opaque, it benefits those who know how to game the system.

We know that when companies publish their wage ranges, it leads to more equal starting points for men and women.

We know that automatic promotions based on performance help level up opportunities for women in the workplace… overcoming the barriers that make women less likely to put themselves forward for promotion.

And we know that evidence-driven recruitment in a clear and open structure is more effective than using informal and ad hoc networks.

On the other hand, techniques like unconscious bias training, quotas and diversity statements … do nothing to make the workplace fundamentally fairer.

By driving reforms that increase competition, boost transparency and improve choice, we can open up opportunities.

This is the approach we will be taking across government.

It is fundamentally important that the role of equality minister is held by someone who also has another cabinet job, as I do with trade.

This ensures equality is not siloed… but is instead the responsibility of the whole government and all our elected representatives.

For example, the Academies Act 2010 meant good free schools were established across England and more children had the opportunity of a great education… the 1980 Housing Act empowered over two million people to get on the housing ladder…and the independent taxation of women in 1988 gave wives control of their own money.

All of these reforms promoted equality by giving people greater agency over their own lives and making systems more transparent.

For example, we know that students from poorer backgrounds are more likely to achieve better grades than they were predicted… and they lose out in the current university admissions system which is based on predicted grades.

That is why Gavin Williamson is right to base the university admissions system on the actual grades students achieve, making sure that students from lower income backgrounds have a fairer shot at university.

In the workplace, we know that flexible working improves productivity and helps people to combine work with other responsibilities.

That is why I will be working with Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, to enable more flexible working – not just as a necessity amid the Covid crisis but to empower employees.

The best way to reduce unfairness in our society is through opening up opportunities for all.

This is the level playing field we should be talking about.

And we are going to make sure that this level playing field is properly enforced.

That is why I am appointing a new chair and a wide variety of commissioners to the Equality and Human Rights Commission to drive this agenda forward.

I am proud we have Baroness Kishwer Falkner, David Goodhart, Jessica Butcher, Su-Mei Thompson and Lord Ribeiro, all of whom are committed to equality and ready to challenge dangerous groupthink.

Under this new leadership, the EHRC will focus on enforcing fair treatment for all, rather than freelance campaigning.

2. Facts, not fiction

To make our society more equal, we need the equality debate to be led by facts… not by fashion.

Time and time again, we see politicians making their own evidence-free judgements.

The Labour party made the ridiculous claim that “our country has never been more unequal”, with even Channel 4 concluding it “does not stand up to scrutiny”.

My superb colleague Kemi Badenoch is leading work on the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, established by the Prime Minister.

We should heed the warning from its chair, Dr Tony Sewell, who wrote last month that they have uncovered “a perception of racism that is often not supported by evidence” and that “wrong perceptions sow mistrust”.

We can and must have an equality agenda that is driven by evidence.

Today I am announcing that the Equality Hub will embark on the Government’s biggest, broadest and most comprehensive equality data project yet… and it will closely coordinate with the work of CRED.

Over the coming months, we will look across the UK to identify where people are held back and what the biggest barriers are.

We will not limit our fight for fairness to the nine protected characteristics laid out in the 2010 Equality Act… which include sex, race, and gender reassignment.

While it is true people in these groups suffer discrimination, the focus on protected characteristics has led to a narrowing of the equality debate that overlooks socio-economic status and geographic inequality.

This means some issues – particularly those facing white working-class children – are neglected.

This project will broaden the drive for equality and get to the heart of the barriers people face. It will report its initial findings in the Summer.

In addition to race, sex, disability and religion, it will also look at issues around geography, community and socio-economic background. It will deliver a new life-path analysis of equality from the perspective of the individual, not groups. Using longitudinal data sets will help us understand where the real problems lie.

3. Geographic Inequality

There is a deeper wage gap between London and the regions than between men and women, with an average full-time salary a third higher in the capital than the North East of England.

There are lower employment rates, pay packets and life expectancy across the North than the South.

That is why the equality agenda must be prosecuted with fierce determination and clarity of purpose up and down the country… not just in London boardrooms and Whitehall offices.

Whether that is making the case for free schools in deprived areas… or using data to help regional businesses attract investment.

We will use the power of evidence to drive reform and give people access to the facts so they can push for change.

We will drive this action from the North of England, where we will be moving the Equality Hub.

And I am delighted to announce that we are also taking on sponsorship of the Social Mobility Commission, to give this agenda real teeth and coherence.

The whole of government will be – and is – totally committed to this agenda.

The Treasury is revising its Green Book so that it judges infrastructure investment fairly across the UK, no longer seeing – for example – faster broadband as a better investment in Surrey than South Lanarkshire.

The Department for Education is going to extra lengths to create academies and free schools outside London. And in housing, we are working to increase opportunities for home ownership across the country.

This is just the start. There is much more we will be doing to make our country fairer and give people agency over their own lives.

This is not limited to the UK

This fight for fairness goes beyond our shores.

Next year, the United Kingdom will use its presidency of the G7 to ramp up its work worldwide with like-minded allies to champion freedom, human rights and the equality of opportunity.

The UK is co-leading the new global Generation Equality Action Coalition on Gender Based Violence, and co-chairing the Equal Rights Coalition.

In that role, we will be holding our International LGBT conference, on the theme of Safe To Be Me.

We are working internationally to bring an end to child marriage… and are supporting international programmes to end the abhorrent practice of Female Genital Mutilation.

We need to make progress across the world and at home… as a fairer world and a fairer Britain go hand in hand.

Taking the right approach to deliver real change At this vital time in our country’s history, we must make sure everyone has a chance to succeed in modern Britain.

That is why we cannot waste time on misguided, wrong-headed and ultimately destructive ideas that take agency away from people.

Instead, we will drive an agenda that empowers people and actively challenges discrimination.

We will use evidence to inform policy and drive change.

And we will focus on increasing openness and transparency … fixing the system rather than the results.

Together, we will build back a better society and lead the new fight for fairness.”

Doug Stokes: The Conservatives must rally to the flag of the Enlightenment tradition as the culture wars rage

20 Sep

Doug Stokes is a Professor in International Relations at the University of Exeter.

Slowly, perhaps too slowly, the Conservative Party is waking up to the importance of the ‘culture wars’. These struggles over meaning will only grow in significance as the UK charts its post-Brexit destiny, itself intimately bound up with questions of culture and identity. How can a nation know what it wants if it does not know what it is?

On the Left, ‘woke’ politics, with its binary worldview of moral certainty, sin, guilt and deconstructive redemption through Western self-erasure is more akin to a secular theology than a programme of political transformation. It offers little to the vast majority of the British people who are sick of its banal virtue signalling, and the open contempt of its high priests in the media, universities and throughout British institutional life.

The Labour Party now faces a likely irreconcilable balancing act, insofar as it must bring together its hyper-woke graduate middle-class activist base and the socially conservative and now ‘Blue Wall’ former Labour voters. Keit Starmer will have to learn to do the impossible: to bend his knee whilst climbing walls.

For its part, the Conservative Party should plant its flag firmly within the Enlightenment tradition of reason, freedom and equality of opportunity. Coupled with a progressive patriotism, this would be a winning cultural formula, and essentially pushes at an open door. Moreover, it would bring together its ‘levelling up’ agenda with a collective story that binds and unifies and links the past with the present to map a future.

There is both a party political but much more important existential element to the increasingly ‘hot’ culture wars. In party political terms, if the Conservatives fail to grasp this nettle, a new party to its right may well do so. At the moment, there is a political vacuum, amplified by its flaccid response to Black Lives Matter riots and continued assaults on the nation’s heritage and history.

Of more pressing existential import is the dangerous game being played by leftist ‘woke’ theologians. From what is little more than anti-white racism peddled by ‘critical race theorists’ and their ‘white privilege’ useful idiots in our universities, media and boardrooms, new forms of divisive thinking predicated around racial interest articulation are beginning to emerge. Preaching to gullible white liberals about their alleged privilege is an easy sell, and this seems to be the underlying gamble: guilt-tripping will help lead to political change.

However, beyond the BBC, lecture halls and other privileged islands, guilt will likely not go very far. It is hard to see how the woke priesthood’s catechism of privilege and self-flagellation will be received in such places as Rotherham. Failure to contain this genie, released by the explosive assault on British identity, places our valuable multicultural dispensation in grave peril. The twin crises of Brexit and the Coronavirus pandemic have justifiably meant the party has been slow off the blocks in recognising this, but it must not linger for much longer.

At the moment, we are living through a unique structural moment in British politics. Strategically, the party should restructure elements of our legal-institutional matrix, much of which underpins the left’s culture war arsenal. Failure to do so will mean that whilst the Conservatives are in power, its exercise will be stymied time after time, and in the culture wars at least, conservatives will suffer a death of a thousand cuts.

What are the elements of this matrix? On the one hand, the party faces a largely left-hegemonic institutionalised ‘fifth column’, composed of quangos and assorted charities. Despite their hyperbole, the UK remains one of the most socially progressive societies on earth, as even a cursory glance at most data metrics show very clearly.

However, these entities have both a bureaucratic and economic self-interest in evidencing ‘forever’ grievance narratives that feed the left’s culture war. For over a decade, various Tory chancellors have pumped billions into these bodies. Why?

Crucially, in a market of diminishing inequality, these ‘social justice’ organisations and theorists have evolved and adapted to new market realities with often Orwellian conceptual innovations to evidence injustice and thus drive political change and their continued funding. From junk science mandatory tests for unconscious biases in corporate boardrooms to students being paid to police alleged unintentional micro-aggressions in our universities, forms of embedded egalitarianism are often illiberal and increasingly authoritarian.

A ‘grievance industrial complex’ exists to evidence the above, but in a market of diminishing inequality, the complex must adapt with ever more bizarre and illiberal conceptual innovations to make sure demand for one’s services is maintained in the context of a diminishing supply of injustice.

Philosophically, this grievance industry deliberately conflates equal outcomes with equal opportunities. The script is familiar. If there’s an unequal outcome, anywhere and at any point, likely explanatory variables are ignored in favour of an amorphous ‘systemic’ conspiracy to reproduce a system of discrimination. It does not matter that this ‘systemic’ conspiracy is totally at odds with readily available data on the incredible financial, educational and cultural advances of the UK’s diverse population.

Conveniently, ‘justice’ is achieved by a redistributive agent of technocrats to intervene to impose equal outcomes in the name of social justice and to combat this ‘systemic’ conspiracy. Similar to the USSR, this conception shifts debates from an examination of underlying processes that allow humans to participate equally to one of top down imposition to achieve outcome parity, usually by a self-interested elite that has a self-interest in mission creep and the maintenance of their power.

The Conservative Party must reboot its philosophical thinking around this crucial distinction: there has been a dangerous and lazy drift across British institutional life from equality of opportunity that is entirely consistent and optimal for a functional market democracy to one of equity or equality of outcomes.

To the extent that the latter conception wins out over the former, conservatives will keep losing battle after battle in what is in fact an ever hotter and ongoing value-conflict raging within the anglophone West.

Of far more strategic significance however, is the foundation upon which this grievance industrial complex sits. It is quite shocking that, after ten years of Conservatives in government, the Equality Act of 2010 has been left totally unreformed.

Although this legislation was intended to safeguard access to equal opportunities, it has in fact morphed into the central juridical weapon of the left. In particular, section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 – the Public Sector Equality duty – has breathed into being an army of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion officials across huge swathes of national life.

Through mission creep, this has imposed huge costs on our public sector, helped shift social discourse to one of outcome equality as being the central metric and weaponized the duty to ‘foster good relations’ to transform organisational cultures in often highly illiberal ways.

No doubt the ‘optics’ of reform will be seized on by political opponents, but this is why the party should bundle this up within a much broader cultural offering: a reassertion of the primacy of the Enlightenment tradition of reason, freedom of speech and conscience and equality of all before the law, regardless of creed, class or colour.

It is these values that have helped challenge dogma, champion freedom and defend those gains once made. These are now under radical assault, with those questioning the orthodoxies of the ‘great awokening’ often targeted for harassment and censure. The Conservative Party should lay a firm claim to the enlightenment tradition and let that be its lodestar in the culture wars. Failure to do so will place our current dispensation in deep peril; it is time to wake up.

Nicola Richards and Alicia Kearns: Conservatives believe in freedom and choice. That’s why we should reform the Gender Recognition Act.

27 Aug

Nicola Richards is MP for West Bromwich East and Alicia Kearns is MP for Rutland and Melton.

The Conservative Party is the party that seeks to protect individual choice. We are the party that ensures people have the freedom to live their lives as they wish. So it was absolutely right in 2017 for the then government to announce plans to improve the legal recognition for trans people in England and Wales. Following a lengthy consultation, now is the time for the Government to follow through on their promises to the trans community.

We are world-leading in LGBT+ rights, but we can do better. It is good that we acknowledged this, and have plans to rectify the stumbling blocks for a community that faces many challenges with current processes. There are many misconceptions about what it is the UK Government promised three years ago, so let us explain.

The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) allows for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate through a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). The current process for doing so has been acknowledged by many as being overly bureaucratic, medicalised, and lacking transparency, making it inaccessible to many trans people.

Recent data indicated that fewer than 5000 people had obtained a GRC, which represents approximately 0.1 per cent of the estimated trans population in the UK. That’s why, in 2018, the Government launched a consultation to seek input on how to improve the process.

Having a Gender Recognition Certificate is important for transgender people as it ensures they are not ‘outed’ and humiliated while doing the things the rest of the population take for granted. For example, getting a marriage or civil partnership in the right gender, have their gender recorded correctly when they die, and have their pension and insurance policies administered in their chosen gender.

It also helps to protect their privacy by ensuring their birth certificate is consistent with their other records (such as medical records, bank accounts, passports and driving licences). Some jobs, such as those requiring security clearance, may require a person’s birth certificate as part of routine checks.

Having this certificate does not add any “extra” equality rights, impact the inclusion of trans people in single-sex spaces, or the provision of services. Trans people can already use, and have always been able to use, services matching their gender, regardless of whether they have the certificate. Services such as Domestic Violence Refuges have always been able to exclude a trans person in certain circumstances, if it is proportionate and regardless of whether they have a GRC. This is covered by the Equalities Act.

It can only be beneficial to streamline and simplify dealings with the state, and have less state interference in one’s life. Concerns about this process seem to be based largely around unevidenced fears that the safety or rights of non-trans people, particularly women, might be at risk. There is no evidence that improving the process of legal gender recognition for transgender people impacts on non-trans people. In 2015, Ireland passed an updated GRA which allowed for self-identification – there has been no negative consequences to this decision. There is, however, evidence that improving legal gender recognition for trans people increases their quality of life, dignity and safety.

We must also go further than our promises to streamline the legal progresses, with a focus on our health response. Waiting times for gender identity clinics throughout the UK are incredibly long and well beyond the 18-week waiting time guaranteed by the NHS Constitution. With the impact of Covi-19, they continue to rise with the average wait for a first appointment being between two and four years. Shocking statistics from the 2012 Trans Mental Health Study showed that 50 per cent of trans people surveyed said they had attempted suicide once, with 84 per cent saying they had considered it. It is clear provisions need to be better and available quicker.

As Conservatives, we have made it a central tenet that individuals should be free to live their lives as they choose. It is our duty to follow through on our pledge to increase the dignity, safety and privacy of transgender members of our society.

No one should experience inequality simply for being who they are. We have friends and family that are trans, so it is particularly concerning that they are at heightened risk of experiencing domestic violence, homelessness, hate crime, discrimination, and assault. The process of transitioning is mentally, physically, financially, and emotionally challenging, even before considering the bureaucracy involved.

We must do more to ensure that our trans community can be properly supported by our fantastic NHS and not face these challenging processes alone. We are proud of our inclusive Government and the steps we have already taken. Now is the time for following through on our promises.

This article is also co-authored by the following MPs: Jamie Wallis MP (Bridgend), Gary Sambrook (Birmingham Northfield), James Sunderland (Bracknell) & Paul Holmes (Eastleigh).

Rebecca Lowe: CNN’s “individuals with a cervix” Tweet, and why denying biological sex can harm those its meant to help

4 Aug

Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. She is co-founder of Radical.

I’m going to assume you saw three things on Twitter this weekend. But don’t worry, I’ll go through them briefly, now, and I’ll explain my annoying Twitter-centricity, below.

The first of these things was a tweet by CNN, saying: “Individuals with a cervix are now recommended to start cervical cancers screening at 25 and continue through age 65”. The second thing was a range of people replying to CNN’s tweet with variations on the theme of, “Cervix-havers?! You mean women!”. And the third thing was a less wide-ranging set of people responding to these “Women!” tweets, with claims that the people who wrote them were transphobic.

Now, to anyone who doesn’t follow this stuff, it must sound a bit “inside baseball”. And, yes, I know there’ll be comments below this column telling me: “The world is bigger than Twitter!”, and “Get a life!”. But the point is that this kind of exchange – “Women!”, followed by “Transphobe!” – is becoming common. And so is the thing that instigated it. Organisations like CNN know full well what they’re doing when they say things like “individuals with cervixes”.

Indeed, in our fortnightly Radical column, we’ve written many times about the powerful lobby pushing the agenda that leads to wording like CNN’s. As we’ve documented, this lobby has captured our institutions – local authorities, schools, medical providers, police forces, and so on. And commercial organisations have proven keen to extract financial gain from what’s become a raging culture war. (I don’t use terms like “culture war” lightly, but it’s hard not to see all this in that way.)

Now, one obvious response to this weekend’s problem – as various sensible-seeming people have pointed out – is that organisations like CNN could simply refer to “women and other cervix-havers”. Or, “women and transmen”. Because that’s where the crux of the matter lies. The main reason that accusations of “Transphobe!” are levelled at the people who shout “Women!”, is that the accusers believe – counter to scientific acceptance – that not all cervix-havers are women.*

This is not, generally, however, because those who shout “Transphobe!” believe that someone born a man can have a cervix. Rather, it’s because they believe that being a “man” or “woman” is not determined by biology, but rather by the way in which someone “identifies”.

So, they shout “Transphobe!” largely because there are some natal women who identify as men, but who haven’t had their reproductive systems removed to meet their desire to present themselves as men. And these transmen, the “Transphobe!” shouters believe, are not covered by the term “women”, because -regardless of their extant cervix, or any biological fact – they are now “men”.

Nonetheless, I imagine many of the people who shout “Transphobe!” wouldn’t like the solution on which CNN write “women and transmen”. And this is, surely, because such a phrase would work to emphasise an essential difference between people who are natal members of a sex set, and those who identify into it.

And what the “Transphobe!” people want is to elide these two things. In other words, if “transwomen are women”, and “transmen are men” -as their mantras go – then, the phrase “women and transmen” is problematic, because the “full” reduction of this would, of course, be “women and men”.

Now, the solution on which CNN write “women and transmen” would, also – I believe – not go down too well with many of the people who shout “Women!”. (I should confirm at this point that I am one of those people, albeit one who prefers calm, reasoned argument to shouting, wherever possible.)

And this is because the people who shout “Women!” see the CNN tweet as a particular kind of intentional political act – a sexist one. This kind of tweet, in other words, serves purposefully to help to write women out of the picture, in an insidious way.

So, we appear to have reached stalemate: people shouting across each other on the internet, with no hope for mid-ground pragmatic solutions. Or, do we?

Well, aside from my concerns about what all this means for women – and, particularly, girls, as I’ve set out here, before – I’m also worried by the lack of concern for transpeople that is shown by those who shout “Transphobe!”, whenever anyone refers to the realities of biological sex. I wonder whether, potentially, this worry could help us – or, at least, those of us entering these discussions from a shared position of good will – to find a point of agreement.

The point here, surely, is that shouting “Transphobe!” in response to “Women!” cannot really be in transpeople’s interests. This is not only because unfair accusations of prejudice help nobody: they dilute focus on real instances of prejudice, and also make people scared to enter into necessary discussion. But it is also because transpeople’s needs cannot be fully met if, as a society, we pretend there is no such thing as biological sex.

Rather, if we recognise, as we must, that transpeople have some particular needs that differ from the needs of the natal members of the biological sex with which those transpeople identify, then it cannot be that “transwomen are women” – if “women” is to mean what it needs to mean.

These needs include some transwomen’s need for testicular cancer treatment and some transmen’s need for cervical smears. On top of this, specific trans needs also include support against trans-specific prejudice, which differs from misogyny and misandry, from which many transpeople also suffer.

Now, meeting all of these particular needs requires widespread and formal awareness of the realities of biological sex – and that requires words, so we can discuss these things. Using the words “woman” and “man” for these purposes is simply reflective of the development of the English language.

Yes, we could begin to use other words for these purposes. Instead of “woman”, for instance, we could use “female-person”, or “womxn”, or “shwoman”, or “abc”. But we would come to the same place, and that is a place in which this particular word would refer to what it is to be a natal member of one particular biological sex.

Using “woman” to mean a natal member of one particular biological sex is, therefore, exclusionary. But it is not exclusionary for hateful reasons; it is not a value judgement. It is a functional term, and it is required for the meeting of sex-specific needs.

These needs go beyond healthcare. They also relate to sex-specific concerns around bodily privacy and security, as recognised in the Equality Act. They relate to matters of fairness, too. And if we have no relevant words, then – as with healthcare concerns – people will miss out on what they need.

In other words, if you deny the realities of biological sex, in order to be kind – and I am certain that the majority of the people who are committed to the mantra “transwomen are women” are committed to it because they think that it is kind, and good – then you will end up harming those people you seek to protect.


*Of course, to state that “all cervix-havers are women” is not the same as to state that “all women have cervixes” (women who’ve had total hysterectomies, for instance).

Crispin Blunt and Sue Pascoe: It’s time to correct the stoking of alarm and spreading of misinformation about trans people

16 Jul

Crispin Blunt is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT and Rights, and is MP for Reigate. Sue Pascoe is Acting Area Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation in North and East Yorkshire.

As the UK strives for a new global place in the world, it’s important that we place equal weight on our personal freedoms, the prosperity of our communities, and equality and equity of opportunity for our people as we level up our country.

We must not leave any section of our society behind because of misunderstandings, prejudice or fear.  It is the first duty of government to foster an environment where this exists for everyone. We hope as a Party, a Government and members of society that we can each hold out a helping hand to all those who still struggle, who still face the difficulties of daily life, who still cannot be their authentic selves.

Our freedom and our basic humanity are two of the key components of what defines us as individuals. When we cannot be our authentic selves, our freedom and our humanity is taken away from us.

During recent months, we had begun to despair with some sections of the media and its relentless stoking of alarm and spreading of misinformation about trans people. There appear to have been orchestrated campaigns to try and roll back the hard-won rights of not only trans adults but of vulnerable trans young people as well.

We would like to bust some myths.

  • Women and trans people have the same need to live in safety from abuse, sexualharassment and physical violence. Trans women and trans young people are not aninherent threat to women. Sadly, there are a small number of abusive people in thisworld of all genders and measures and efforts should focus on stopping their actions.
  • We are out of step with other countries around the world in adopting rights fortransgender people – from such countries as Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia to many of the states in the US to countries closer to home like Portugal, Belgium and Ireland. United Nations Free and Equal recommends that a range of measures are introduced by states to support transgender people, from legally recognising the gender identity of trans people in official documents through a simple administrative process in line with their lived identity to gender-affirming healthcare services free from stigma and discrimination.
  • The World Health Organisation made clear in 2019 that being transgender is not amental illness, and should not be treated as such.
  • Considerable scientific evidence has emerged demonstrating a durable biological element underlying gender identity.
  • Language respecting the sex in which trans women and trans men live has beencommon decency in Britain since the 1970s, and has been clearly upheld in UK law since 2004.It is never necessary to humiliate or degrade trans people in order to discuss sex and gender or to address health needs or social inequalities.
  • The Equality Act brought in the concept that gender reassignment was a ‘personal process’ rather than a ‘medical one’. Trans people have been accessing single-sex service and facilities in line with their lived identity for many decades,  and with proportionate protection from discrimination since 2010. Misinformation is driving current fear to try and change this. It will remain permitted under the Equality Act to exclude trans women from single sex facilities, such as a woman’s refuge, on a case by case basis, but it would be anathema to British values to attempt to blanket-ban trans people from toilets and shop changing cubicles.
  • Trans people already access services matching their gender under the law, except inrestricted individual circumstances, with all the protections that have been campaigned for to balance rights. This is why we say so much of the campaigning ismisinformed.
  • All that’s been asked for now for GRA reform is a minor change in administrative arrangements for birth certificates that only impacts the holder of the certificate onmarriage, death, getting a job or a mortgage. Can you remember when you last used your birth certificate or even where it is? GRA reform has never had anything to do with toilets or changing room cubicles.
  • Currently, less than 0.03 per cent of under 18s in the UK are referred to gender identity development services, of which only a tiny number may eventually go on to receive puberty-delaying medication for two or three years while under 16.
  • Changes to curtail trans young people’s healthcare could have serious unintended detrimental consequences on wider children’s health services. We have clinical safeguards such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to ensure best evidence-based protocols. ​We must be guided by evidence and clinical experts and not lobby groups to make policy decisions.
  • Only 5,000 trans people currently have a GRC, fewer than 100,000 have changed their driving licence or passport. The numbers remain small and any proposed reform of the Gender Recognition Act would only apply to people living permanently in theirgender with all their other ID such as passports or driving licences already changed.

We really wonder if the good people of our great nation realise they are being manipulated through fear and false information to roll-back the basic dignity, privacy and safety of trans people who are just trying to live ordinary lives.

Yes, the bodies and life experiences of trans people will never be identical to those of people who are not trans. But that is not good reason to segregate and demonise them. It is also the same with trans young people. Parents of young people who are struggling with their gender simply want their children to have unconditional love and support – to explore their identity and time to enjoy their childhood with assistance from trusted multi-disciplinary professionals in the field free from political interference. That is the right and humane way forward.

In recent weeks, voices have spoken up from global businesses in the City, global media and entertainment businesses, members from across the Commons and the upper chamber; voices from across all sections of society, from within the LGBT community and its close allies, from faith leaders and parents of trans children but, most of all, from trans people with a simple message.

With one voice, asking for trans inclusion and equality, trans people say: we are just like you, human beings who just wish to go about our lives free from hate and persecution. Be kind, let us love and be loved. Let us be our authentic selves. We are not an ideology to be fought over by others.

The bottom line is most people in the UK do not want to reduce trans people’s inclusion in services or undermine their identities. Polling consistently shows the majority of women support trans women’s inclusion in services and reform of the GRA (see the British Social Attitudes Survey and recent YouGov polling).

Ipsos MORI reported this month that 70 per cent of Britons believe that transgender people face discrimination, with a quarter (26 per cent) saying they face a great deal. We have ended up entangling ourselves in unnecessary scaremongering against trans people at a time when most people want us focused on tackling Covid-19, rebuilding our economy and bringing our society together.

Equality and inclusivity for all is an essential bedrock of our free society. We wish to work towards a society where we treat each other with respect, dignity, compassion, tolerance and understanding. We wish to see policy measures which bring social cohesion, and focus on our common welfare, as we work together to emerge from these troubling times.

Radical: Our top five reads for the summer – on gender-related issues

7 Jul

Victoria Hewson is a solicitor and Rebecca Lowe is the former director of FREER, and a former assistant editor of ConservativeHome. Together they found Radical, a campaign for truth and freedom in the gender recognition debate.

Last week, it was reported that Dominic Cummings had set the special advisers (SpAds) some books to read ahead of an “away day”. Dubbed “spad school”, by Times journalist Stephen Swinford, the advisers’ homework allegedly included reading all 350 pages of Philip Tetlock’s Superforecasting, alongside Andrew Grove’s (only slightly shorter) High Output Management.

Now, whatever your preferred method for predicting the future, it seems unlikely that the reading-list-story trend will stop here. It’s a yearly classic, after all. Whether you’re a school-leaver preparing for university entry, or a Government minister intending to use time away from Westminster to learn the historical context of your brief, your summer plans probably include some targeted reading. 

So, here are our top five Radical reads for the summer. As regular readers of this column might expect, they’re not cheerful page-turners. But they may well change your life.

1) It’s a badly kept secret that the Equality Act (2010) and the Gender Recognition Act (2004) aren’t exactly the best-drafted pieces of legislation. Discrimination solicitor Audrey Ludwig’s deep dive into the former – published just a few days ago on the WPUK site – emphasises its incredible complexity, in a neatly practical manner: she explains how she goes about determining whether someone has faced unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act’s purview.

Along the way, Ludwig highlights the lack of “objective research and analysis” into the impact the introduction of “self-IDwould have on sex discrimination, and related issues, such as pay. Key to these matters, she reveals, is the role the “legal comparator” plays in discrimination cases: self-ID would change “who and who cannot be used as a legal comparator”, and this would have serious repercussions. 

2) Employment solicitor Rebecca Bull’s recent briefing note for MBM Policy Analysis, Impact of Gender Recognition Reform on Sex Based Rights, sets out the implications of proposed Gender Recognition Act reforms on sex-based rights and protections under the Equality Act.

Like or loathe the Equality Act (and there’s a lot to criticise about it), it’s now woven into the way in which every business and public-sector organisation has to operate. How services are provided, and how employees are paid and treated at work, are prescribed by the Equality Act.

Where Audrey Ludwig’s blog gives a snapshot of how self-ID would affect the way in which the Equality Act works in cases of workplace discrimination, Bull sets out the “significant concern that single sex service provision on the lines of natal sex will be rendered unworkable and severely compromise the rights which women currently have to single sex services”.

3) The NHS recently edited its guidance on puberty blockers as a treatment for transgender children, to remove the claim that suppressing puberty with synthetic hormones is reversible, and to introduce a description of harmful side effects.

Much concern has arisen about the medical path increasingly regularly embarked upon by children who identify as the opposite sex. And, in Growing Pains: Problems with Puberty Suppression in Treating Gender Dysphoria, professors of medicine, Paul W. Hruz, Lawrence S. Mayer, and Paul R. McHugh, give a clear and comprehensive account of the use of puberty blockers, and the subsequent hormone therapies and surgeries that many of these children move on to as young adults.

The authors rebut the claim often preferred by medical professionals and advocacy groups that puberty suppression is fully reversible, and highlight a lack of scrutiny of the safety and efficacy of what they consider to be “experimental medicine” being practised on vulnerable children.

Anyone who’s concerned about the treatments currently being administered to hundreds of UK children who’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria will find this article useful and troubling in equal measure.

Published last month, Joanna Williams’ Civitas report, The Corrosive Impact of Transgender Ideology, is as punchily written and hard-hitting as its title, and her spiked credentials, suggest. But it’s also well researched and argued, with Williams’ experience as an academic grounding her readable style.

Culminating in five policy recommendations – including the immediate prohibition of the prescription of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to children – this paper (or short book, really, as it comes in at about a third the length of Tetlock) addresses the “social impact” of the “emergence of the idea of transgender”.

It also provides a neat summary of a shift in “progressive” rights-based activism – away from demands for “more freedom from the state for people to determine their sex lives unconstrained by the law’, and towards demands for “recognition and protection from the state […] to regulate the behaviour of those outside of the identity group”. 

5) Deep philosophical claims and arguments lie beneath all policy recommendations and legal analyses, and the written output of the sex/gender debate is no exception. Indeed, those of us who write about these matters are often criticised for being too esoteric, and for failing to engage with the real world.

Hopefully, the practical focus of the works listed above will serve to counter that criticism sufficiently, however, for us to be able to end this week’s column by recommending some top philosophical writing. We have great hopes for Sussex philosopher Kathleen Stock’s upcoming book, Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminists, due out in 2021.

But, until then, check out her recent TLS review of Judith Butler’s The Force of Nonviolence, and her 2019 Aristotelian Society talk on sexual orientation as a “reflexive disposition to be sexually attracted to people of a particular biological Sex or Sexes”.   

Phillipa Stroud: Coronavirus has hit those in poverty hardest. The Government must support employment, fast.

2 Jul

Baroness Philippa Stroud, Chair of the Social Metrics Commission.

The UK is living through the most significant health, social and economic crisis of modern times. But not everybody is being impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic in the same way. A new report from the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), which I chair, shows that those who were already struggling to make ends meet are being hit hardest.

Research we conducted with YouGov reveals that almost two thirds (65 per cent) of those who were living in deep poverty – that is, more than 50 per cent below the poverty line – and were employed before the virus hit have lost their jobs, been furloughed, or seen their hours and/or wages drop. This compares to just over a third (35 per cent) of those living more than 20 per cent above the poverty line prior to the crisis.

Our analysis shows that, over the last 20 years, rising employment rates for those in poverty were helping families move out of deep poverty, so they were more likely to be able to escape poverty in the future.

Families in poverty where the adults work full-time are less than half as likely to experience deep poverty than those with part-time work or no job. A reversal of this success story could have a profound effect; increasing poverty rates and deepening poverty for those already below the poverty line. So supporting employment, especially for those on the lowest incomes, must remain a key priority for Government as the country emerges from the lockdown restrictions that have caused the economy to contract so severely.

We also need to empower those in or at risk of poverty to increase their financial resilience. The SMC’s analysis shows that, before the crisis hit, nearly three in ten people in poverty lived in families that were behind paying the bills and seven in ten were in families where no-one saves. This means they did not have a buffer available to them when the pandemic struck and are therefore more likely to have fallen further into poverty.

However, it is not all bad news. The SMC’s analysis also shows that, after rising for the last three years, the poverty rate for both children and pensioners had plateaued before the crisis, and that, since the turn of the millennium, poverty levels haves fallen for lone-parent families.

In addition, there has been a drop in the poverty rate for families that include a disabled child over the last 10 years, and across all age groups there has been a fall in the proportion of people in poverty who are also in persistent poverty.

These success stories demonstrate that poverty can be tackled and reduced. But with millions of people still in poverty, we cannot be complacent.

The first step is to ensure that poverty is properly measured. This is essential if action is going to be taken to improve the lives of those currently living in, or at risk of falling into, poverty, and to ensure that those individuals, families, communities, and areas of the UK that have historically been left behind are supported to improve their situation.

After decades of damaging debate that has distracted focus away from the vital action needed to drive better outcomes for the most disadvantaged in society, a new consensus is needed so that policymakers and politicians can track progress and can be held to account.

I am delighted that the Government has committed to creating new experimental national statistics based on the SMC’s approach, as the first step towards adopting it as an official measure.

While it is entirely appropriate that this work was paused during the pandemic so the Government could focus on providing support to those individuals and families whose health and livelihoods have been impacted by the virus, the need to return to it is clear.

The next step is for a full Poverty Commission to be established to develop solutions based on this measurement data. We already know that poverty is more likely to be experienced by some families than others, and that the nature of that experience is incredibly varied.

The causes and implications of the various types of poverty are different, which means that the approach needed to tackle them will be different. As with the SMC, it will be important that the Poverty Commission has support from individuals and organisations across the political spectrum as well as from business, the charity sector, and those who are in poverty.

However, while the Poverty Commission will need to conduct further work to assess what really creates an enabling environment for different people, the existing data clearly shows that work is one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. Therefore, as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, an employment- and skills-based recovery will be vital.

We must enable the smooth transition of those on low incomes who have been furloughed and need to increase their hours, to avoid them falling deeper into poverty. We need to re-open schools so that the education of the poorest is protected and to allow their parents to work the extra hours that could make all the difference.

And we need to ensure that schools are preparing students for the jobs that will be available in the future, equipping them with the skills they will need in a world of artificial intelligence and new digital technologies.

In addition, given half of those in poverty live in a family with a disabled person, we must increase support to help those with disabilities find full-time employment. The inescapable cost of housing, and especially private renting, is also one of the major factors contributing to poverty, so it is also vital that we make housing more affordable.

My hope is that the SMC’s poverty measurement framework can inform the creation of a comprehensive anti-poverty strategy. Where there are obstacles, we need to remove them, and where individuals can build their own pathway out of poverty, we need to ensure that they have the tools and support they need to do so.

This will require a partnership between those in poverty and policymakers, business leaders, and community builders across the UK. Together we can ensure that poverty is less prevalent in the UK after the coronavirus crisis than it was before and that as many people as possible can enjoy a life free of poverty in the future.