Religion and belief largely absent from government’s new vision for equality

Mention of religion and belief was largely absent from the government’s announcements on its new equalities strategy, launched this morning by Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, Rt Hon Theresa May MP. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which was invited to attend the speech, has said that while there could be some positives in the new approach, the conspicuous absence of equalities policy on religion or belief could have a detrimental impact on equality and anti-discrimination across the board.

Earlier this month, the Secretary of State confirmed that the Government Equalities Office (GE0) would not be doing any work on the equalities area of religion or belief, which includes non-religious belief. The Minister was responding to a question from the BHA in a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented, ‘The government’s new vision for equality seems to be firmly rooted in promoting equality of individuals, with a stated intention to move away from seeing and treating people simply on the basis of one marker of identity, such as religion. This could be positive and tackle in part the worrying situation whereby people are encouraged to identify with a faith group simply to be recognised, consulted or included in policy initiatives. We will be looking to see where religious representatives are given privileged status and treatment by government solely on the basis of religious identity, and hold the government to task against its new strategy.

‘However, the Secretary of State also emphasised that public services would be handed over to communities and we know from experience that often means contracting to religious groups, which are permitted by law to discriminate in services and employment on religious grounds. If religious groups are to take control of the provision of public services particularly at local level, that poses serious risks of increased discrimination, not only against non-religious people but women and vulnerable minorities within faith communities, such as gay people.

‘The fact is, if religion or belief really has been excised from the GEO’s portfolio, and all related issues are to be dealt with by other government departments and placed firmly in the context of faith communities rather than equalities, then that could be very detrimental to wider efforts to forward equality across the board.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Naomi Phillips at [email protected] or on 07540 257101.

For more information about the BHA’s work on equalities and on government and faith communities, see http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/equalities and http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/government-and-faith-communities

The British Humanist Association is the national charity representing and supporting the interests of ethically concerned, non-religious people in the UK. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.