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International trade secretary Liz Truss is expected to make a speech today in which she will criticise the Equality Act 2010 and dismiss unconscious bias training as one of several ‘tools of the left’ that do nothing to ‘fix systems’.
As she prepares to make her speech, Truss also faces questions over new figures showing that the gender pay gap at the Department for International Trade has widened significantly since she took it over.
The content of much of her speech, which will say the state’s agenda had become too narrow, was given in advance to the Telegraph.
Truss is expected to tell the Conservative thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies that policies such as unconscious bias training ignored other crucial ways in which the country is not fair.
The government, she will say, will now turn to promoting “freedom, choice opportunity, individual humanity and dignity”.
Truss is also set to criticise equality legislation, claiming that it “overlooks socio-economic status and geographic inequality”. She will insist the debate surrounding equality must be “led by facts… not by fashion” and emphasise the need for objective data.
A government spokesperson told the Telegraph: “The point is that fashionable causes may be good causes, but it leads to other people and real issues being ignored and neglected.”
Truss is expected to complain about the dominance of “identity politics, loud lobby groups and the idea of lived experience” in the debate about social fairness.
She will warn that the state must not “waste time on misguided, wrong-headed and ultimately destructive ideas that take agency away from people”.
The speech is the latest signal from the government that it does not believe unconscious bias training to be effective. Earlier this week it ordered the scrapping of unconscious bias training for civil servants after authors of a study claimed there was no evidence of its effectiveness.
Civil service managers had been required to undertake mandatory unconscious bias training courses since 2015 in an attempt to level the playing field, tackle implicit and explicit biases, and build more inclusive workplaces.
However, cabinet secretary Julia Lopez said that such training would be phased out by government departments, and public sector organisations would be encouraged to do the same.
It is also being reported the Truss’s comments will target the Black Lives Matter movement, which some Conservatives do not regard as mainstream and do not support. Earlier this month cabinet minister George Eustice failed to condemn Millwall football supporters who booed players taking the knee. Football supporters at Premier League grounds have, since the incident, made a point of vigorously applauding the players’ gesture.
Meanwhile, the gender pay gap at Truss’s international trade department has grown significantly since she took it over in 2019. Figures released yesterday showed the department’s gender pay gap has widened every year since the first such report in 2017, when mean wage inequality stood at 3.6%.
Under the leadership of Truss – who took over in July 2019 – this rose to 6.5% in 2020. And the department’s median wage gap rose from 2.7% in 2017 to 15.9% in 2020.
In monetary terms, the mean hourly difference in ordinary pay was £1.65 and the median hourly difference was £4.04, the report said, with men at the department paid an average of £25.30 an hour, compared with £23.65 for women.
A DIT spokeswoman said the department had hired more women than men over the past year but claimed the gap had widened due to the “overall distribution of women across [pay] grades”.