Equality in public and political life

Women, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people are under-represented in elected office and appointments to public boards. However, a lot of work is going on to address this.

Our democratic structures and communities are stronger and more effective if all voices are included and everyone has the chance to shape and influence the decisions that affect them. See more about women’s representation.

Access to elected office

The Equality strategy includes a commitment to ‘provide extra support to tackle the particular obstacles faced by disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or other elected officials’. 

We've been working closely with Equality 2025 (the Govenrment’s advisory body on disability issues), disability organisations, political parties and other partner organisations to identity the barriers to disabled people’s participation in political life and to draw up a number of proposals based on the evidence gathered. 

We ran a consultation from February to 11 May 2011 to seek views on these proposals. A summary of responses recieved, and the government's response was published on 13 September 2011.

Diversity of public appointments

Around 12,000 appointments are made to the boards of UK public bodies. The government is committed to promoting greater participation in public life, and is workign to get more people from business, communities and the voluntary sector to achieve a fairer and more equal society.

Facts and Figures as of 31 March 2009

  • Women held just over a third (34.7 per cent) of public appointments, despite making up half the population
  • Disabled people made up just 3.9 per cent of appointees, even though 14 per cent of the working age population has a disability
  • Ethnic minorities held less than 6.9 per cent of posts, despite making up nearly 11 per cent of the population

The government has set itself the aspiration that by the end of the Parliament (May 2015) at least half  of all new appointments being made to the boards of public bodies will be women.

The government’s aspiration for women on public boards is part of its broader commitment to diversity and to increase the numbers of people from all underrepresented groups on our public boards. 

These appointments will continue to be made on merit and the government will step up its efforts to attract suitably qualified people from all backgrounds to positions on public boards.

Find out details of vacancies on the boards of UK public bodies and committees and more about public appointments on Directgov.

Diversity in political representation

This parliament is the most representative ever, with 144 women MPs out of a total of 650 (22.2 per cent. However, we know we still have a long way to go in order to make the very best use of diverse talent in political life. 

To achieve this, we must continue to make progress in line with the recommendations of the cross-party Speaker's conference and its final report.

Cross-party speaker’s conference and the Equality Act 2010

We want to tackle the barriers preventing under-represented groups from participating in political life. Collecting diversity data would provide a better insight into where effort needs to be targeted to increase numbers.

One of the recommendations of the cross-party speaker’s conference was that political parties should be required to publish details of their candidate selections.

As a result of this recommendation, section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 makes it possible to require registered political parties to publish anonymised data relating to the diversity of their candidate selections at a particular election.

The act contains a power to make regulations which will need to be the subject of consultation. The government is considering how to take forward this provision and will make an announcement in due course.

The Equality Act 2010 will extend the use of women-only electoral shortlists to 2030, together with a provision allowing the use of such shortlists to be extended beyond 2030 by an order by a minister. The provisions will also allow for some places to be reserved on electoral shortlists for those potential candidates with other protected characteristics.

Political parties will also be able to take voluntary positive action to address inequality in the representation of people elected into political office. They will be able to take a range of steps to encourage involvement among under-represented groups and the creation of dedication committees exclusively for those with a specific protected characteristic.

Repeal of section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983

The government intends to repeal Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 whereby mentally ill MPs sectioned for more than six months will no longer be disqualified from parliament.

With the launch of a £400 million strategy to improve the care for those with depression or stress through better counselling and therapy services, this step is part of a plan to end the stigma attached to mental illness.

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

The government is putting in place measures to reform policing with the proposed introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners for each force area in England and Wales (except London) in May 2012.  As part of the commitment to reduce bureaucracy and increase democratic accountability so that the police can fight crime and focus on what matters to the public. 

We are working to identify activities which will encourage a wide range of diverse candidates to stand for election as police and crime commissioners. We will engage with a diverse range of stakeholders and communities to ensure that we raise awareness of the proposed reform and consider their views in developing policy. It should be noted that this work is dependent on the outcome of the new Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill which should complete its passage through Parliament later this year.

Black, Asian and minority Ethnic (BAME) women councillors taskforce

The taskforce work programme ended in March 2010. The final report including recommendations was published on 22 October 2009 with an evaluation report published on 9 June 2011. 

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