The engine of identity politics and the DIE (diversity, inclusion, equity) agenda in the U.K. is the Equality Act 2010. In particular, Part 11, which contains all the exceptions and extra clauses that turn a law against discrimination into one that drives ‘positive’ discrimination and a panoply of woke causes.
James McSweeney has taken a closer look at this problem in UnHerd. He’s unimpressed with the Government’s new policy paper, Inclusive Britain, which proposes beefing-up online censorship and ensuring NHS hospitals are “held to account” for insufficiently zealous diversity drives, while leaving the Equality Act untouched.
He has a proposal for what a Government that actually wants to cut identity politics and wokery off at the root would do – and it’s much simpler than you might think. It depends on realising that the lawfulness of the whole edifice rests on just a few clauses in the Equality Act.
Clauses like Section 149 which introduced a “public sector equality duty”. This obliged public bodies to “encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons is disproportionately low”.
Subsequent regulations (introduced by Conservative ministers) toughened Section 149 – imposing on public bodies a requirement to publish measurable “equity objectives”, including concrete steps to strengthen diversity and extensive annual reports on progress. This effectively meant that every public body – from your local hospital trust to the Royal Navy – had to hire a diversity bureaucracy.
What followed was predictable. The number of Diversity & Inclusion roles surged 71% between 2015 and 2020. According to LinkedIn, the U.K. now has twice as many D&I workers per capita as any other country. How do these workers boost diversity?
While the Equality Act forbids explicit quotas, it provides two loopholes. Section 158 facilitates “enabling or encouraging” protected groups to “participate in an activity” where they are underrepresented. This covers targeted outreach schemes such Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship. And Section 159 does allow forms of preferential treatment for candidates from underrepresented groups. However, as university grades, A Levels, and psychometric tests consistently produce large group differences, the diversity and inclusion bureaucracy has been forced to get creative.
Some bodies, such as the civil service and police, have dumped numerical and verbal reasoning tests (the former has also dropped A Level requirements) – replacing them with situational judgement tests, which largely query candidates on how they would navigate professional relationships. These lack predictive validity but produce results without any clear group-correlated patterns.
Other bodies rely on more informal discrimination. NHS England’s pledge to reduce the ratio of ethnically European medical directors by 27% probably falls into this category – with candidates failing to fit the profile likely to be looked over. The Army has simply lowered standards.
These trends are unlikely to be reversed by repealing the Equality Act. When the Reagan administration scaled back U.S. affirmative action compliance requirements, companies failed to change their behaviour. I suspect we’d see the same in the UK – after years of on-message statements, no CEO or public sector leader will want to be seen as anti-diversity.
Instead of revoking the Equality Act, the Conservatives should amend it – removing Part 11 (which contains the above sections). With this adjustment, any private or public body pursuing diversity targets would become liable to near-bottomless lawsuits for violating the Equality Act’s prohibition on discrimination on grounds of race, sex, religion, gender identity or sexuality. Overnight, statements of intent to alter any group’s share of the workforce would become damning legal evidence. The entire diversity bureaucracy would be severely damaged.
The Government can do this quite easily, and it must. The alternative is to erode meritocracy and mandate growing discrimination against any group judged to be inappropriately successful.
Worth reading in full.