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Policy, Research, Stat of the day, Stat of the month

The Forum: Weekly roundup for 29 March – 1 April 

The Forum Business Disability forum's Think Tank logo

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Research

Quote of the week

“For generations, women have lived with a health and care system that is mostly designed by men, for men. This ‘male by default’ problem of the past must be put right”

(Matt Hancock, Minister for Health and Social Care)


This week: The women’s health consultation, the Social Mobility Commission goes into Cabinet Office, and the Sewell report is the latest illustration of Government positions being far from the reality of lived experiences of inequalities.

Cross-intersection equalities debates

This short week has been busy for us on cross-intersection equalities debates. Earlier this month, Matt Hancock launched a consultation into women’s health, which we are pleased about, although it is hard to imagine that this has not been addressed before. As questions from managers and inclusion departments on menopause and women’s specific health issues in the workplace increase with pace, we will be concentrating our response on the fourth area of the consultation, “maximizing women’s health in the workplace”. We intend to look at the impact of childcare care, pregnancy related, ageing, informal care givers, and the health and stress experiences of women lives as they continue to work and progress their career. We will be contacting members shortly to feed into this.

In addition, the Prime Minister announced that the Social Mobility Commission has, as of today, moved into the equalities hub in Cabinet Office. This comes a week after we submitted evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee’s inquiry on role of Government Equalities Office (which you can view here). While we are supportive of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) being placed at the heart of Government in Cabinet, we also remain concerned about the overall lack of strategic vision from the Government on removing inequalities for everyone in the UK. In Liz Truss’ “Fight for Fairness” speech in December 2020 when she announced the SMC would move into Cabinet, she said “There are still too many cases where your destination in life is decided by where you started it”. While we do not reject this, it is not the whole truth, particularly for disabled people. The many discrimination experiences faced by disabled people are introduced as they move through public services, education institutions, workplaces, and welfare systems. Wherever they are from, disadvantage comes to them due to a still-ableist society. It is not about where they come from; it is about what they are exposed to that keeps them out of employment and in the welfare system, which keeps closing opportunities or, to use Truss’ term, “destinations” in their lives. People who become disabled as adults also experience huge social disadvantages that sees them going from full time skilled careers to being reliant on shockingly minimal benefits payments, regardless of their socio-economic background. We therefore want a better understanding and a cross-intersectional Government equalities approach that recognises the different ways disadvantages and barriers are experienced through people’s lives which may or may not be relevant to ‘where they started’ in life.

The ‘Sewell Report’

If anything else this week has brought to the fore an ever loudening divide between Government positions and individuals’ experiences, it’s the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report (the ‘Sewell Report’). The ‘backlash’ to the report has uncovered the very point that we argued in our submission on the role of equalities management in government (referred to above): how can the Government be sure they understand the daily experiences and disadvantages of groups experiencing inequalities across the UK (particularly when current data collections and methodologies are not fit for purpose)?

A somewhat unhelpful sentence comes early into the Commission’s report that “[The Race and Ethnic Disparities Unit] has accumulated all the important data on race and ethnicity, in one database. For the first time we have been able to use this dataset to understand the impact of ethnicity and other factors on outcomes” (page 6).

Our concern is that the Government does not yet collect “all the important data”, particularly in relation to disabled people from a wide range of race, ethnic and socio-cultural experiences and backgrounds. Therefore, a report stating definitively that it has collected all of the data together and based a conclusion about the absence of institutional racism on that data unfortunately sets itself up for comeback at the outset. The report then makes the following conclusion:

“Put simply we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism. Too often ‘racism’ is the catch-all explanation and can be simply implicitly accepted rather than explicitly examined” (page 8, emphasis ours).

Ouch. This comes before the end of a pandemic where, similarly to disabled people, the number of deaths of people who are Black, Asian or are from another ethnic minority ‘group’ is disproportionately high. The consultation on women’s health mentioned above mentions a need to include experiences of women from all race and ethnic groups. Runnymede Trust’s response to the report highlights a huge overrepresentation in disadvantage during the pandemic:

“As we saw in the early days of the pandemic, 60% of the first NHS doctors and nurses to die were from our BME communities, despite the NHS comprising only 20% BME staff in total. For Boris Johnson to look the grieving families of those brave dead in the eye and say there is no evidence of institutional racism in the UK is nothing short of a gross offence.  Tell those 60% BME NHS doctors and nurses who died from COVID that institutional racism doesn’t exist.” 

And this is the point we made in our equalities submission: Government data is not matching people’s lived experiences, and a response from one Government department does not chime with the inquiries currently ongoing by another. What is the Government’s all-inclusive, barrier-free, and cross-intersectional approach to advancing equalities for every person in every area of the UK? We are still waiting to find out.

If you would like to get in touch with BDF’s policy team or would like any of the documents we have linked to sent to you directly, please get in touch at

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