by Baroness Onora O'Neill
Published: 05 Jul 2015
Fairness is one of this nation's most enduring values, alongside respect for others and challenging intolerance. We are fortunate to live in a place where respect for the rights we all share is something we expect and can have confidence in advocating for.
But fairness is one of the most over-used, misused and contested phrases in our policy and political lexicon, with the public and even experts often unable to fully scrutinise or find consensus on the many definitions, claims and counter-claims.
With the start of a new Parliament and a Spending Review looming, there could be no better time than 2015 to ask Is Britain Fairer?
As the nation's equality and human rights watchdog, the Commission has a special role and a heavy responsibility to help policy-makers and the public navigate what is a complex and multi-faceted debate.
We have a statutory duty under section 12 of the Equality Act 2006 to monitor progress towards equality and human rights in Great Britain and to report on this progress every five years.
But our ambitions go further than just statutory box-ticking. We want to raise the bar on the quality of public discourse and provide expert analysis that enriches, informs and influences parliamentary debate, government policy and the priorities of private and public organisations.
Britain has taken great strides towards ensuring equality of opportunity, freedom from discrimination and the protection of human rights. But as we know, society is always evolving in ways that affect different people in different ways.
While there are people who are prospering and thriving in many areas of their lives, it may be that they are falling behind in others. And some people may be facing more acute, and pressing challenges than others.
That is why the work the Commission is doing is essential. The values of fairness, dignity and respect are shared by all of us and we have a common goal to improve Britain together.
To meet this lofty ambition, we will publish what we hope will be landmark analysis as part of our series of reports addressing the question Is Britain Fairer?
We aim to provide a trustworthy, authoritative and comprehensive review of the state of the nation on equality and human rights.
The reports will look across ten key areas of our lives, ranging from how our right to life is protected to the way we participate in and influence the society we live in. We will examine health, education, employment and crime, as well as other topics. And these ten key areas aren't just randomly selected. They are based on research and consultation to determine the things that matter most to people’s lives. They will also highlight the different states of play and issues in England, Wales and Scotland. We expect to publish more than 20 reports over a period of 12 months starting in October.
To manage your expectations, there are two points to make before we get to that stage however.
Firstly, those people expecting a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer are likely to be disappointed. Our review will reveal a nuanced, complex and detailed picture.
The primary aim of our reports is to be a valuable reference for Parliament, central and local government, non-governmental organisations, business, trades unions, researchers and the media to make Britain a better place to live for us all.
That doesn't mean that we will duck or fail to address sensitive issues. For example, from our early analysis, we know one of the big themes of Is Britain Fairer? is likely to be about life in Britain in 2015 for many disabled people, and their opportunities to participate in our society. The data shows concerns in a number of different areas, including participation in the labour market and some aspects of care and support for people with severe disabilities. Nor will we be afraid to stand up for people that some might assume we could safely ignore - such as middle aged men, who are falling behind in some areas of life.
Equally, in other areas progress is to be welcomed. For example, more tolerant attitudes towards same sex relationships and the introduction of legislation on same sex marriage.
Secondly, we certainly are not starting from the perspective that we alone have all the answers.
Our reports will be based on the evidence collected by a large-scale review conducted in consultation with Government, academic, business and voluntary sector partners.
The consultation and engagement continues this week with a number of conferences with expert groups in London, Edinburgh and Treforest.
We hope you will find the results informative, useful and interesting.
Fairness, dignity and respect matter to all of us. It is only through rigorous understanding of the progress that has been made that we can bring clarity to the challenges that still remain.