As a trainee counsellor/psychotherapist I often get asked what politics has to do with therapy. It saddens me as there is often a suggestion that to be a therapist I need to leave my personal ethics at the door – and yet, we all abide by an ethical framework. My personal ethics are coloured by my political view in life. I see and experience injustices, and they cannot be ignored.
Fight for Fairness – a speech by Liz Truss
Last night I read the full speech from Liz Truss, MP and Minister of Trade and Women & Equalities, “Fight for Fairness”.1 By the time I finished reading I was shaking with anger. I wasn’t sure whether to write this post, but as today has developed, I feel I need to write something. Then I saw that the government website has redacted large sections, describing it as “Political Content” and attempted to scrub it from their website. Mrs Truss has however posted the full original speech on her website, and I found it on various websites.
Some key elements that I would like to address about the opening part of her statement:
I am very glad to see Truss highlight the importance of looking beyond the South East. It is long recognised by many that other areas of the UK have been disregarded and ignored. Just this year, the Conservatives punished the more Northern areas such as their treatment of Manchester which saw the city lose out on millions of pounds of aid.
Truss throws out an attack on “identity politics”, “lobby groups” and attempts to disregard “lived experience” as unnecessary. The definition of identity politics is a group of people who are interlocked by their shared experience of oppression (such as Trans Rights groups or Black Lives Matter). I’ve noticed more and more those on the right throwing it out as an insult, to attempt to discredit those with legitimate complaints of oppression.
“Moral and Practical Case for Equality”
I feel that one reason that I am so conflicted about parts of this statement is that it’s clear Truss understands many of the barriers people face. She refers to those with different surnames or accents struggling to find work, pregnant women experiencing discrimination, women having to dress a certain way and LGBT people experiencing harassment.
But when I look a little deeper, I feel uncomfortable. For example, the line “Or that some employers overlook the capabilities of people with disabilities“.
Why does that line fill me with such dread? As an individual with disabilities I have experienced first hand the atrocious discrimination that disabled individuals face every day. Where has the most discrimination come from? Our government. The attacks on those of us who require some financial assistance to afford our basic care has been awful. You have to fight to receive appropriate help and support, and then you are humiliated by those who do the assessments.
I fear that that line means they want to ‘encourage’ more disabled people into jobs that they may not be suited to. For example, I cannot work full time, this is a limitation as normal tasks are exhausting. Will I be expected to take on jobs that I cannot do, leading me towards more illness?
“Equality Rooted in Conservative Values”
I once again feel cynical as I read the statement “we will move well beyond the narrow focus of protected characteristics”. This is a not a ‘narrow’ set of identifying features, it is 9 very clear and needed characteristics to protect our citizens and visitors:
- gender reassignment
- marriage/civil partnership
- sexual orientation
She posits three ways that her government will change things:
- “delivering fairness through modernisation, increased choice and openness”
- “concentrating on data and research, rather than on campaigning and listening to those with the loudest voices”
- “taking our biggest and broadest look yet at the challenges we face, including the all too neglected scourge of geographic inequality”
Like I stated above, I believe looking at geographic inequality is a huge problem in this country. Too often huge areas are completely disregarded or used as a political football. But I question the fairness of ignoring those with the “loudest voices” (I’m presuming that this will be groups such as Black Lives Matter) just because her government doesn’t like that they being held to account. This quote here makes it very clear what they think of issues such as race and gender (they are not deemed “real concerns”).
“The Failed Ideas of the Left”
This title is part of the original statement, but has since been removed by gov.uk as “political content”. But it’s clear that the entire speech has been designed to attack Labour and its earlier policies. I wonder how the shadow minister for Equalities feels, and I will be writing to her in due course.
I’m baffled by what follows: Truss suggests that as her school taught her about “racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write”. This anecdotal example doesn’t actually give any evidence, and of course it has been redacted on gov.uk. Did no one check her speech before she did this? Humorously, she doesn’t give any evidence, and then suggests that because the Left followed a post-modernist philosophy, it denies evidence… I’m not sure she learnt about hypocrisy during her schooling either.
What follows is a lot of personal complaints, especially against the Labour party that feels highly inappropriate and almost irrelevant. If you’re talking about what you are going to be doing going forwards, why are you talking about 1997? I don’t understand, other than trying to make cheap shots. Not something you’d expect from a woman talking about dignity and humanity.
She then makes three sweeping, ignorant and offensive statements, suggesting that the left has turned a blind eye to “practices that undermine equality”:
- “failing to defend single-sex spaces”
This statement deals with the real issue of Transphobia, often dressed up as ‘protecting women from men’ when really, Trans Women are increasingly in danger of assault.
- “enabling and tolerating antisemitism”
I’ll admit, I’m not the most educated on the findings into the Labour party. So I won’t comment too much on this, but I will argue that Truss should really avoid throwing stones, when her party is filled with those who have behaved in incredibly racist ways.
- “appalling grooming of young girls in towns like Rotherham”
The case of Rotherham is horrendous. It’s important we continue to talk about these issues to help prevent them from happening again. But I feel for the survivors of the abuse who are time and again used as a political football to make a point. It is cruel, and shameful.
All of the above section has been wiped from the gov.uk website. Maybe somebody thought better of having blatant transphobia shared by their equalities minister… but I’m sad that no explanation or apology had been made.
Truss continues by attacking ‘unconscious bias training’, going so far as to scrap it for all government departments and civil servants. She claims that “study after study” have found that it is ineffective, but she fails to lay out what they are doing instead. Halima Begum, chief executive of the Runnymede Trust race equality think tank argues that it needs to be “replaced with something better and further reaching” if they want to improve things.2 Truss can’t help but return to personal opinions once again, complaining about “affirmative action”, “unconscious bias training” and “lectures on lived experience” suggesting that all of it undermines equality.
As soon as you start denying personal and lived experiences in favour of the cold ‘scientific’ facts, I feel that the humanity of the issue has been removed. It makes me sad that some feel that these experiences should be disregarded.
“Fairness, not Favouritism”
As I should have expected, Truss describes the landscape as one where unoppressed voices are oppressed, “if you are not from an ‘oppressed group’ then you are not entitled to an opinion and that this debate is not for you”. This is the standard discussion around freedom of speech. A suggestion that those who want to say offensive things cannot because the ones who would be victimised have put a stop to it. Freedom of speech is still a thing in this country, but it does not stop people from being offended, and if you harass and victimise people, then you could be seen to be breaking the law. Why any MP, let alone the MP for Equalities would posit this as a bad thing. Unless we want to look back up her speech again to where she made veiled attempts at transphobia.
Once again, I find myself in agreement with Truss on some issues, such as making organisations more transparent. Once things such as wages and pay rises have to be made public (or at least shared amongst all employees) there is likely to be some sort of levelling out. “When things are opaque, it benefits those who know how to game the system”. I agree (although I want to take a cheap shot!). There is further talk of the more recent changes, such as Gavin Williamson (MP for Education) ensuring that actual grades instead of predicted grades are used for university admissions to create a more balanced system. Flexible working being encouraged to helped those with other responsibilities. A leveling of the field is important and I’m glad that this is being considered across all departments.
“Facts, not Fiction”
But then we hit upon some of the more offensive messages once again. Discussions of “freelance campaigning” as a bad thing, with us needing to be led by “facts not by fashion”. On the surface it makes sense that we need to focus on facts. But what is Truss referring to as “fashion“? You just have to look at all the news surrounding this speech. Truss is referring to issues around race equality, gender and gender identity. We’ve seen these topics raised in BACP’s Therapy Today and the Psychologist. Our profession is not exempt from these behaviours and attitudes, but what can we do as therapists? We can hold our profession and professional bodies to account, just as society should hold their government to account.
I am glad to hear of several things, such as a new Equality Hub to allow for effective research into issues around equality, including the impacts of georgraphy and socio-economic background. However, it concerns me that all previous research (and there has been extensive research done in thie country and Europe) will be disregarded as Truss seems to be going back to the drawing board…
As previously mentioned at several stages in this long analysis, I’m very glad to hear that the government is hoping to address the massive inequalities that people experience in this country based on a postcode lottery. They plan to set up the Equality Hub in the North of England, which is a vast improvement in how things have been handled up until now.
“This is not Limited to the UK”
Next, there is a whole section that talks about how the UK will lead other countries to create more fairness and equality. I find this incredibly insulting, when we know that after 10 years of their government, inequality is even bigger and more damaging than ever before. There is talk of the UK leading the G7 summit to “champion freedom, human rights and the equality of opportunity”, but I find this disengenous when you consider the awful working conditions people have found themselves in just this past year – look at the lack of human rights that clothing factory workers in Leicester experienced this past summer!
However, I’m so thankful to see that the UK is taking such a role in attempting to end “Gender Based Violence” which includes issues around domestic abuse and female genital mutilation (FGM) which are such serious issues.
I do, however, find it ironic that the UK will be holding the International LGBT conference (with the theme of “Safe To Be Me”) when there are have been recent attacks on Trans rights. Not only that, but it seems Truss holds some form of transphobic views (as evidenced above).
This article started as a sort of open letter to Liz Truss – one I never expected her to read or listen to. I wanted to put my thoughts down, as I feel that it is my duty as a citizen, and as a compassionate human being, to challenge bigotry. I’m incredibly disappointed to see this kind of statement come from the Equalities Minister. I’m even more disappointed to see that gov.uk has removed some of the offensive elements with not even a mention or apology.
Now it could be seen as ‘cancel culture’ to suggest that Truss should be removed from her post. But I would argue that she has shown her inability to be an active leader for equality. I have more thoughts on all of this, but I think I’ll leave it here. Just know, that I don’t expect this to be the end of the awful inhumane attitudes within our society and government, and it is our duty as therapists to challenge these issues.
- Truss, L., “Fight for Fairness”, gov.uk, (18th December 2020)
- Coughlan, S., “‘Unconscious Bias Training’ to be scrapped by ministers”, BBC News, (15th December 2020)