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Trevor Philips interview transcript
Jon Sopel, on the Politics Show, Sunday 25 February 2007, interviewed Chair of the Equalities Review, Trevor Philips

Trevor Philips
Chair of the Equalities Review, Trevor Philips

JON SOPEL: I'm now joined by the Chair of the Equalities Review, Trevor Phillips. Trevor Phillips, welcome to the Politics Show.

TREVOR PHILIPS: Good afternoon Jon.

JON SOPEL: Afternoon. Let's tackle that view expressed by the Conservative MP in the film you know when he says it's PC, political correctness overtaking common sense.

TREVOR PHILIPS: Well I think that Philip Davis - I'm sure he's a man of good will, hasn't really woken up and smelt the coffee.

The issue of equality is important for everybody in this country. You will see in a report some new work which shows the degree to which the costs of inequality are born by the whole country.

The fact that women are not employed at the same rate as men costs us in excess of twenty billion pounds, disabled people don't have the same employment rate, another nine billion.

The question of the fact that we will all to some extent be part of some so-called minorities, we'll all become old, we hope, at some point, we may not change our race but we may have a mixed race child. All of these issues are issues for the whole country.

And by the way this is also a question of human right; it isn't just a matter of money.

You might be as rich as you like but if you are an elderly person in a care home and nobody respects your dignity enough to change your linen more than, you know, once a week than you are reduced to the same circumstances as to somebody who maybe has a tenth of your wealth; so this is a complicated and new area.

JON SOPEL: Yeah but we heard from Sir Herman Ouseley your predecessor at the CRE there saying that unless you're going to deal with the most fundamental issue of all and that is economic inequality, than it's a wasted opportunity.

TREVOR PHILIPS: Well economic inequality is clearly still the most important driver in relation to inequality in this country - there's no argument about that. But what is also true and which our report will show quite dramatically I think, is that there are a series of other things that no matter how well off you are that actually get in the way of your being able to flourish and to be free in our society.

Again it doesn't matter how wealthy you are, if you are a disabled person in a wheelchair and there is no ramp to get you into your high price restaurant you can, you know, you are in the same place as somebody who hasn't got the money, if you are a well-off black person and you go for a job and the person in front of you thinks in their head, I don't want black people in my building, it doesn't matter how much money you've got you're not getting in; so the point that we're making I think, fundamentally in the Equalities Review is first of all, equality isn't just a minority business it is not just, you know, a case of some voices of people who are aggrieved, it's an issue for the whole society and secondly it is a much richer issue than simply income and wealth or the absence of discrimination.

JON SOPEL: But won't people think that somehow you're missing an important issue here. If you talk about those points and you make the point clearly about you know, if your human rights are being abused it doesn't matter how much money you've got, but the economic inequality is what underpins all of it.

TREVOR PHILIPS: Of course, and there's an interaction between all of these things. You know, some ethnic minority communities tend to be at the bottom of the pile and I think, without trying to set out the whole report, you will see that that is the case, but the fact is, simply reducing this to there are rich people who do well and there are poor people who do badly and what we should do is somehow simply give the poor people more money, would be to underplay and to ignore actually the many struggles and the many campaigns of people, indeed like Sir Herman Ouseley, and like Ben Summerskill, have led over the last decade, which were for the right of groups who are not necessarily defined by income and wealth.

JON SOPEL: Ok you talk about a duty to promote a single positive duty to promote equality, it sounds rather jargony, what does that mean in plain English?

TREVOR PHILIPS: Well what happened over the last twenty five years is that we had a lot of law which was about individual discrimination, you could go to court.

What we discovered over the last ten, twelve years is that there is more subtle forms of discrimination which means that actually it's a kind of person who's discriminated against, my example about the disabled person and the ramp is, is such an example, it's not against a particular individual but it's against a particular kind of person and the positive duties were brought in, in relation to gender and race, to try to make sure that people thought ahead of - when they were building a building, when they were creating a new public department, they thought ahead about the kinds of systems, the kinds of architecture that would not allow that to happen.

Now the problem is that these positive duties are all different in different fields, and what we're proposing is, let's make it simple, let's make it less bureaucratic, let's have a single, positive duty on all public bodies that everybody knows exactly what they've got to do. It isn't bureaucratic, doesn't involve a load of paper, but it involves making things different.

JON SOPEL: How big a problem is transgender inequality?

TREVOR PHILIPS: Well if you are one of the people who was born into a body which is different from the gender that you feel you are, it's 100% problem Jon, and the point is? (interjection)

JON SOPEL: I suppose the argument is, sorry to interrupt you, but I suppose the argument is, when you've got the police and the health service saying they're already overburdened by bureaucracy, to then say to them well you've actually got a duty now to kind of comply with a whole series of other issues, that's just adding to a problem where maybe it's too much to ask them to do that.

TREVOR PHILIPS: Well I think what you'll find when you read the report is that actually what we propose is a simplification of all of that. Rather than multiplying the number of groups what we're saying is that institutions should have some very simple rules and some very simple systems by which they can deal with all of these things, but let me say very clearly: the fundamental point about equality and human rights is that because you happen to be a big group doesn't make you more important than a group of people who might only be two or three thousand people. Everybody's human rights, whatever they are, black and white, and by the way some of the groups here are white - not just ethnic minorities - it doesn't matter who you are, how big or small the group you belong to, your rights have to be protected, you too should be treated equally.

JON SOPEL: Now you've talked a lot about the fact that there are a disproportionate number of black people in prison in the criminal justice system, whether arrested or facing charges whatever. We've had measures announced this week by the government where they would bring forward to tackle black on black crime, toughening the law on being in possession of a firearm which would presumably mean that there would be more black youngsters in our prison system. Do you support those sort of measures?

TREVOR PHILIPS: I might have the result that you outline, but let's go back to the point here - what we need to do is stop people being shot and ending up dead in gutters at the age of fourteen or fifteen. Who are the people to whom that is happening? Way, way disproportionately black people. I think you will find that amongst the black community in this country there is more keenness for tough and active measures to rein in the gunmen than amongst anybody else, because they are the victims. So I think this - posing this as, you know, we're going to lock up a load of black people and let's, and that's an issue of discrimination, gets it completely wrong. The people who really want action are the black mothers and fathers that you see on TV mourning the deaths of their children.

JON SOPEL: Ok, but I heard one or two of the groups who were at the Downing Street summit saying, actually we shouldn't be looking at the laws, we've got to be looking at the social conditions that produce this and we're against the idea of tougher mandatory prison sentences.

TREVOR PHILIPS: Well I think the law is only part of this and let me be clear the equalities review says that big time, that actually legislation has always been important but so too has been actions by communities themselves and political leadership. So I think there's no argument from us about the importance of communities, in this particular case, beginning to develop their own work.

So for example in North London there is a man called the Reverend Nims Obunge who runs something called the Haringey Peace Alliance, which has brought together the black community and the police and the churches and their work together has reduced gun crime. That action is terribly important, but it is also important to remember that you can't get that kind of movement if the state doesn't back it, if police aren't prepared to cooperate, if people don't know what's going on and that's part of the job of public authorities too.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Trevor Philips we'll leave it there, thanks ever so much for being with us.

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The Politics Show Sunday 11 February 2007 at 12.10 GMT on BBC One.

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