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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Creating a Society at Ease with Diversity

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

To mark the ‘European Year of Equal Opportunities for All’ an opening event was held in Manchester, at which Meg gave the following speech.


I’m pleased to be here to launch the UK’s contribution to the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. I’m particularly pleased to do this in Manchester - a modern and dynamic city which has an excellent record in promoting equality and diversity.


As Arlene McCarthy, MEP, has mentioned, right across Europe people are coming together to challenge prejudice and discrimination and to highlight the benefits diversity brings.


Prejudice and discrimination have no place in our country, no place in a fair, free and just Britain. 


A Britain with the most comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Europe.


A Britain with human rights protection placed on a statutory footing.


In April we put another important part of the equality framework in place with the introduction of the Gender Equality Duty.  Public authorities are now required to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful sex discrimination and harassment. They must promote equality of opportunity between women and men when providing services.


This means local authorities, government departments and other public bodies focusing on two key questions:

  • “How are we going to make sure that our services better meet both the needs of men and women?”, and
  • “How are we making sure that our employment practices take account of the different needs of men and women?”

Shortly the Government will publish the Green Paper on discrimination law. It will contain proposals to create clearer and more streamlined equality legislation to provide a better deal for those who experience disadvantage.


But just as we recognise progress, we understand we need to go further. We can do more to tackle inequality, for example:

  • 42% of the ethnic minority population live in the 50 most deprived districts in the country,
  • 48% of people believe that there is more racial prejudice in Britain than five years ago, and
  • around half of the women in part-time jobs are working below their skills and abilities. 

Statistics like these tell a story. Too many individuals not realising their potential, held back from contributing as they could. Not just a problem for them, a problem for the economy, a problem for the country.


Using the Opportunity

So we want to use the opportunity this particular European Year brings. We want to focus on developing practical policies that will help us create a society at ease with its diversity.


Over the coming months, you will hear about the four themes that underpin the European Year programme - the 4 ‘Rs’:

  • Rights,
  • Representation,
  • Recognition, and
  • Respect.   

That means:

?         increase awareness of each individual’s Rights,

?         increase Representation by under-represented groups, in particular the victims of discrimination,

?         Recognise and celebrate diversity and equality, and

?         increase the Respect for and promote a more cohesive society.


Today we are starting a programme that reaches out across the regions.  We will bring together people who have the opportunity and levers to make a difference in the communities where they live - councillors, employers, voluntary and community groups.


Following on from Manchester, the ‘Society at Ease with its Diversity’ roadshow will visit Birmingham, Leeds, London and Gateshead in June.  In July events will be held in Bristol, Reading, Blackburn and Leicester.


The views and ideas we gather in will provide the basis for a report that the Government will take to Brussels in December, to share across the European Union.


Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also playing their part with events and projects to promote diversity and raise awareness of rights to equal treatment.


I want here to pay tribute to Manchester‘s Agenda 2010 Partnership. This is working closely with the City’s black and minority ethnic communities on areas identified by those communities - employment, education, health and crime.


The New Commission

As you know, Manchester will be the main home for the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which formally begins work in October. What a marvellous opportunity, to mark the European Year with the creation of a single body to tackle discrimination in all its forms.


It’s not my intention to steal Trevor’s thunder - he will speak about the Commission’s vision and the plans for its first months shortly.  But let me just remind you about the ambitious goals we have set Trevor and his commissioners.


We expect the Commission to play a key role in building an inclusive, fair and prosperous society. A society where there is mutual respect for the dignity and worth of every individual.


We envisage the Commission working with a dual approach:

?         enforcing the law when required, and

?         promoting and encouraging new thinking and best practice, through inquiries and investigations.


The Commission will be the national champion for equality, diversity and human rights. But also it must work collaboratively with regional and local networks, whose work remains essential if we are to achieve a more cohesive society. As part of that collaboration we look to you for best practice and innovative ideas. 


The establishment of the Commission and the work of the Equalities Review and the Discrimination Law Review move issues of equality, and how we view them, into a new phase for this country. Our discrimination law has relied on individuals being able to enforce their legal rights and our general understanding of discrimination has been that certain groups of people are more likely to be discriminated against than others. While this remains true we also now recognise that there are inequalities that are not so easily defined by a label such as black or disabled. The complexities of our lives mean that people can suffer discrimination for many reasons such as race, gender and disability but that other factors such as social class, and as the Equalities Review set out, motherhood can also be significant.


So it is fortuitous that we have the opportunity of raising these and other issues during the European Year of Equal Opportunity for All, and to welcome the new Commission during the year. Issues of equality should be issues for everyone, not just because at any point in our lives we might find we suffer discrimination and need the support of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, but because fairness and equality matter. I know they matter to many people, but its fundamental have a society where everyone is important.  


Changing Society

Society is undergoing profound change. Our population is becoming older. Today there are 9.4 million people over 65; in 2021 - tomorrow in demographic terms - there will be 12.4 million.


As we all know, roles and responsibilities within the family are being transformed - and this will continue in the future, not least with the introduction of civil partnerships.


More and more women work, 42% in 1971 to 70% today. Women are also bearing the brunt of becoming a carer in middle age, caring for one or more parent as life expectancy increases.


In a recent nationwide debate with women, the message I heard again and again, was that inequality flourished wherever there was a culture of disrespect. Violence against women - they said - was often a physical manifestation of that disrespect.


Today women and men, citizens of all faiths and none, face the threat of violence from small yet determined groups of extremists. They feed on disunity, on building difference between people into fear and hatred.


Our challenge is to work to build trust, to build community. We can develop a society where extremism is challenged, where it cannot develop.


We can do so by being positive about the diversity that exists in society. We can nurture a shared culture of respect within cohesive communities, communities that exists on the principle of equality and opportunity for all.


For further details: http://www.cehr.org.uk/content/european.rhtm 

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