The chair of a group of MPs has accused the foreign secretary, In caso contrario, potrebbe, of treating her second role as minister of women and equalities as a “side hustle”.
A damning report from the women and equalities committee accused the government of sidelining the push for equality, and said it risked “regression on equal rights after decades of progress”.
The report calls for the creation of a Cabinet-level minister to reduce inequality, and said hard-won progress was at risk if the role of women and equalities minister was given to “secretaries of state with all-encompassing, non-complementary ‘day jobs’”.
Caroline Nokes, chair of the women and equalities committee, said that in Truss’s first full week as foreign secretary, the minister had said she was unable to attend the committee’s questions because of conflicting commitments.
“It is obvious that the current setup of Cabinet leaves no space or time to really address inequality in the UK,” said Nokes. “By effectively treating the role of women and equalities minister as a side hustle, the government is demonstrating its lack of willingness to invest energy in creating change.”
The committee’s report, Levelling Up and Equality: a New Framework for Change, includes a YouGov survey, which found that 93% of respondents could not name Liz Truss as the current women and equalities minister, only 2% knew about the work of the government equalities office (GEO), e 67% knew nothing about the government’s work to tackle inequality during the pandemia.
The report accused the GEO and the wider Cabinet Office “equality hub” of being “largely missing” from the government’s response to the crisis. MPs expressed their “deep disappointment” at the failure of equalities ministers to attend evidence sessions, adding that earlier this year the minister for equalities, Kemi Badenoch, and the then minister for women, Elizabeth Berridge, failed to appear despite three months’ notice and six proposed different dates.
There was also implicit criticism of the government’s response to the Gender Recognition Act reform, and communication around the findings of the Commission of Race and Ethnic Disparities, with the suggestion that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should help broker further debate.
“The government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda must not be at the expense of tackling wider inequality, and the new role should address longstanding issues such as race and sexual orientation with the same importance it affords to geographical inequality,” said Nokes.
A spokesperson for the government said it was committed to “levelling up all parts of our country, working to tackle inequality and promoting equal opportunity so everyone can thrive”.
The spokesperson added: “In recent years we have continued to make progress on equality issues introducing same-sex marriage across the whole of the UK, publishing a groundbreaking report into ethnic disparities, introducing our National Disability Strategy and are seeing record low gender pay gap rates.”