It has been 10 years since the Equality Act (2010) received Royal Assent, providing Britain with a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. Sadly, not all of its important changes came into force.
Section 106 of the Equality Act (2010) would require political parties to publish diversity data on candidates standing in elections to the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
However, 10 years on and the government has yet to enact it. As a result, there is no official information on the diversity of those standing for election at any level of government.
Transparency is key. We already know that women register to vote, and vote, in equal numbers to men. However, we do not have all the data to help explain when it comes to standing for election why the playing field is not equal. Transparency of information is the first step towards solving this inequality.
There is no formal requirement for parties to report on the diversity of candidates for election – who is coming forward to be nominated and stand for selection. We just know who is elected.
Parties are the gatekeepers of political life in most cases and therefore need to be held to account for their efforts to improve political diversity and representation. Candidate diversity data is the only way civil society can hold them to account on this.
The government has cited a concern about the regulatory burden on parties of introducing this requirement, mentioning smaller parties in particular. However, we know that many parties already collate information voluntarily and there is cross-party support that recognizes the importance of candidate diversity and Section 106. When businesses are required to publish their gender pay gaps, why shouldn’t parties have to publish their gender diversity gaps?
The Women and Equalities Committee’s have urged the government to bring Section 106 of the Equality Act into force and give the Electoral Commission powers to collect and host this information.
‘Enacting Section 106’ has been a key recommendation of equality and democracy organisations for some time now. But steam has been growing more recently through a coalition of organisations and individuals in the Centenary Action Group. It includes the ERS, the Fawcett Society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, as well as prominent academics.
The legislation is ready to go – we should not have to wait another 10 years to see it in action.