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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Gender Equality in the Public Sector

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

At a conference organised by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) entitled ‘Promoting Gender Equality in the Public Sector’ Meg gave the following keynote speech. 


I am delighted that you invited me here today to deliver the keynote address for the EOC’s Conference on ‘Promoting Gender Equality in the Public Sector - preparing for the new duty and examining best practice.’


I believe this is a subject close to our hearts.  It is right, that after the passing of the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975, another Labour Government is taking an opportunity to advance equality for men and women.


Some people may well look at what has happened since 1975 and say that more women are now in the labour market - helped by flexible working patterns and increased childcare provision; girls are outperforming boys at schools and in particular, more are participating in subjects like science and technology.  Some people may say that we have gender equality.  It’s sorted!


But we in government, the wider public sector and stakeholders know that there is more we should do. Women still come second in the workplace and in other spheres of life.  Men are also facing inequalities too, particularly if they wish to play a full role as fathers and achieve a balance between work and family responsibilities. 


I also know that for example, men and women use health services differently and there are some very disturbing facts and figures. For example:


  • Men are twice as likely as women both to develop, and to die from, the ten most common cancers which affect both sexes.

  • Two thirds of men, compared with just over half of women, are potentially overweight or obese.  This makes men more likely to suffer from related conditions such as cancer and coronary heart disease.

  • Men are therefore much more likely than women to suffer from the consequences of obesity and being overweight including cancer, coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome.  This affects some 24.6% of men and 17.8% of women.


Research has shown that men are much less likely to visit their GP than women.   For example men under the age of 45 visit their GP only half as often as women.  It is only amongst elderly people that the gap narrows significantly - and even then, women see their GP more frequently than men.


The Government has long recognised that men and women have different needs in relation to many public services - such as health, education, transport, crime prevention, the criminal justice system.  Some public authorities are already working to meet these different needs of men and women but some are not.  Let me share some examples of good practice in the health sector:


  • the Pitstop scheme in Knowsley; this enables men between 50 and 65 to get free MOT style checks in non-NHS venues such as pubs, social clubs and workplaces.  Trained health advisers conduct a 40 minute health check covering blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking and drinking habits.

  • The Bradford ‘Health of Men’ project offers health MOTs on a weekly basis in a Barber’s shop mainly used by Asian men, as well as a wide range of specific men’s services.  The project also offers weight management programmes to men, to run in the workplace. 


  • Another example is the Sefton Primary Care Trust’s ‘Tommy the Trucker’ initiative, an initiative aimed at overweight lorry drivers; encouraging them to be more physically active and to eat a healthier diet.


I mention these examples because it is often believed that nothing is really being done to help men while there are enough initiatives out there to help women.  Providing gender sensitive services and meeting our differing needs is an important part of delivering better services for both men and women. 


This is where the public sector duty on gender equality - commonly known as the ‘gender duty’ will make a difference.  This public sector duty is strong evidence of this government’s commitment to make gender equality a fact of life for all.  This duty, which is similar to the race and disability duties, will target the public sector, as it has a big impact on the lives of men and women.  Services such as health, education and pensions are important to everyone.


I know that many representatives of public authorities as well as other support networks, sitting in this audience and beyond, want this duty to work. I know this to be the case by the examples I mentioned earlier.  Some of you are already meeting many of the requirements and I welcome and applaud that. 


Having said that, we need to ensure greater consistency in this area throughout the public sector.  That is why we have decided on the need for a statutory obligation - to bring about a vigorous and systematic approach to improving equality between men and women in services and in employment in the public sector.   It is those statutory obligations which we are already consulting on and you’ll be discussing today.


Last Tuesday, I launched the Government’s  consultation document “Advancing Equality for Men and Women: Government proposals to introduce a public sector duty to promote gender equality”.   Much work has gone into developing these proposals working closely with other government departments, the wider public sector and external stakeholders - especially the EOC - for which we are extremely grateful. 


The criteria that we have worked to is to develop a pragmatic, proportionate duty which focuses on outcomes.  We also have to be realistic.  Current and future spending rounds are going to be tight.  This means that we all have to look at our processes and procedures to see how they can effectively be mainstreamed, leading to positive outcomes; thereby securing better value for money.


Our proposals, in the consultation document, are centred round three main components:


Firstly, Gender equality schemes.

Public authorities will be required to draw up and publish gender equality schemes.  This will give each public authority the opportunity to review its activities and decide what action it needs to promote equality of opportunity for men and women to meet their separate needs - showing how it will implement them.  They will do this in consultation with employees and stakeholders; monitoring and publishing progress, followed by three-yearly reviews.  

It is important that public authorities have the freedom to prioritise and set their own goals/targets.   Having said that, they should consider aligning these with wider equality policy priorities - for example reducing the pay gap, or areas identified from the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights in any of its reports on gender equality.


The second component is Equal Pay arrangements.

Develop and publish a pay policy on their equal pay arrangements - including measures to ensure fair promotion and development opportunities and those to tackle occupational segregation.  This Government has long acknowledged that steps need to be taken to close the gender pay gap.  We also have the highly influential Women and Work Commission reporting to the Prime Minister in January on their findings.  But much is already being done in the public sector as regards equal pay.  Gone are the days when it was all centrally controlled.  Public authorities have developed their own pay and grading systems - for example, NHS has the ‘Agenda for Change’ for non-medical staff.  Our proposal goes at the heart of accountability - for those who already taking action, why not make accessible any existing information about your equal pay arrangements? 

Although public authorities should have the freedom to consider how best to meet these requirements, we believe that an effective policy should cover the following areas:

?         a commitment to the principle of equal pay between women and men;

?         arrangements for reviewing pay and the approach to be followed. This could include carrying out formal pay reviews; and

?         a commitment to act on the result of the review.


The third component is Impact assessments.

This will require public authorities to assess the impact on men and women of any new legislation and policies - including service delivery changes; and again these must be published.  This should be a systematic cultural practice.  When public authorities are considering new policy developments or changes, they should assess these for the impact on gender.  This will help to re-enforce gender equality considerations in areas of public sector work. Of course if there is a negative impact, then corrective action will need to be taken. 

We need to be pragmatic.  In the consultation document we have outlined the areas to be covered when conducting a full gender impact assessment.  However, there may be instances where a public authority may be unsure as to whether a full Gender Impact Assessment needs to be conducted on all employment, policy or service delivery changes.  Hence our suggestion that public authorities could subject these to an initial screening on the impact they will have on women and men. This should be a straightforward exercise using existing data and the results should be published.

There are important areas of compliance for public authorities with the duty -

  • Consulting with their employees and stakeholders;

  • being open, transparent and be accountable in whatever they do; and

  • through specific actions, demonstrating commitment to gender equality.

FINALLY, what will a successful duty look like?


It will be clear that the needs of men and women are being met comprehensively. 


It should result in a culture change in the way public services are addressed.


Equality and fairness for all will not just be a slogan; but a reality.


I am really pleased to see so many of you here today taking part in extending gender equality. I hope that you will respond to the proposals in the consultation document as we value your views.


Our goal is greater equality between the sexes.  It makes good sense for business, the economy and last and by no means least - society. 

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