A new body promised by former Prime Minister Theresa May to tackle “deep-seated societal injustices” has never been convened and never will be.
The former prime minister’s pledge to create the Office for Tackling Injustices (OfTI) won praise from inequality campaigners, who said it was an important part of the battle to reduce opportunity disparities over race, gender, deprivation, sexuality and disability. The chair of the new office was also announced when May unveiled the plan last summer. May, who in her first speech as prime minister in July 2016 pledged to fight against “burning injustice”, said she wanted it to hold “government and wider society to account”.
However, more than eight months after May revealed the plan, the office has never been convened – with some of those involved believing it will never be established. Some said they had not received any contact about it since its unveiling. No budget or remit has ever been published or agreed. One of those hoping to work with the office said the lack of progress was “very frustrating”.
“It doesn’t exist – it is never going to exist,” said one person involved. “It has been thrown into the long grass. This was a big opportunity to find the evidence and act on it, but it is not being used. People involved in it have never even been told what the plan was. They have heard nothing. It is a shame because this agenda is important – there are huge issues around race, disability and gender that this would have helped.”
The OfTI was intended to work independently of the government, but with resources supplied by the Cabinet Office. It was to bring together the latest research and data to give a clear picture of the inequalities faced by different groups. It is a similar approach to the Race Disparity Audit, which highlighted the huge differences in life experiences and outcomes that ethnic minorities face compared with their white British counterparts.
However, the new office was always derided by many Tories and Whitehall insiders, who regarded it as nothing more than a desperate attempt by May to preserve any kind of legacy after a premiership dominated by a failure to break the Brexit gridlock.
Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, the former business executive who was to chair the new office, said she was not surprised that the office had not yet been formed. She said that the coronavirus crisis meant it was right that resources were directed elsewhere, but urged the government to return to the idea at the right time.
“I’m passionate about equality in the UK and I’m really keen for OfTI to go ahead. It isn’t surprising because of the demands around Europe, and now Covid-19, that this hasn’t kicked off. After Covid-19 has passed, we should look at picking it back up, but not until then. Being equal, and having no disadvantage because of your background, is important to anybody. After Covid-19 has passed, this agenda will matter more than ever.”
The office won significant backing at the time of its launch. Ruth Hunt, the former chief executive of Stonewall, said it would “give us a clearer picture of the barriers and better enable us to act against the discrimination LGBT people still face”.
Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote (who was made a life peer in May’s resignation honours list), said the new office would assess the government’s progress towards social justice in the same way that the Office for Budget Responsibility acts as an independent watchdog over the public finances. “I believe it will become a shining beacon,” he said, adding it would be “a powerful bulwark for change”.
A government spokesperson said: “The government is considering how best to take forward the work of the Office for Tackling Injustices in the light of the new domestic priorities. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of their backgrounds, has the support they need.
“We will tackle prejudice, racism and discrimination and address the complex reasons why some groups do less well at school, earn less at work, or are more likely to be victims of crime and have committed to investing at least £90m to reduce youth employment disparities.”