Fairness is not the the same thing as Equality

Interesting that the EHRC (Equality & Human Rights Commission) seems to be imploding. I have to say I was, like many, underwhelmed by their recent thoughts that equality for women might have to be put on the back burner during the recession - surely that is the time that we need the EHRC most?

But I was very interested to read in the Guardian this morning, that some of the concerns are about a shift in focus aware from equaity to fairness. As an equality lawyer saying in the piece:

"The problem is that 'fairness', unlike equality, has no basis in law. It's a much more nebulous concept. Fairness is not about protecting the rights of those who have experienced discrimination, it's about being fair to everyone, including businesses and white men."
And so it seems to me that is the Lib Dems problem with Diversity (and despite some interesting moves forward recently, we do have a problem with it) is because we actually value fairness above equality.

For example, the only way that any parliament has ever reached the key proportion of 30% women to men has been through use of quotas; in our westminster system as currently managed that would mean All Women Shortlists.

That is of course a very unfair state of affairs for the male activists that would like to stand in a seat which is AWL (or zipped with women in front as per our Euro lists used to be) is in place.

I'm not sure that equality can be 'fair' for everyone at all times but we have to decide which is more important to us.

Just a thought....


Jennie said...
29 Mar 2009, 11:18:00

Of course fairness is more important than equality. Equality gained by being unfair or unjust is not worth the attaining.

And I think, therein, lies the essence of every disagreement I have ever had with you.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
29 Mar 2009, 12:09:00

Yes,lol, you're right Jennie - that's exactly the root of our disagreement - which is why I thought it such an interesting quote and I wanted to bring attention to it.

I would, of course, first ask you to define fair. Fairness is, as the lawyer, said a nebulous term and means different things to different people.

It is also one of those things that nobody is really against - I mean even the BNP are for their idea of fairness.

But I think therein lies the Lib Dem struggle with the equality agenda.

I think though, in the end we will have our hand forced - the Speakers Conference may force it. Or, I actually think what is far more likely is, that if we fail to be diverse from top to bottom we will become electorally irrelevant.

It is not in Labour's interest for us to be more diverse and so I suspect that the Speakers conference will not do much.

MatGB said...
29 Mar 2009, 19:28:00

Jo, I think the proble is that you're using fairness as a synonym for "eaulity of opportunity" and "equality" as meaning equality of outcome.

I, specifically, favour the former, and also favour trying to encourage more women to consider putting themselves forward.

What's the proportion of women on the approved candidates list, 26%? That's with years of work by the CPGB and predecessors.

Jo Swinson told me once that if we'd won 20 more seats in 2005, we'd have 10 more female MPs, that's 50% of our top targets with female PPCs despite only 26% viable possible candidates, right?

That looks pretty good to me.

Aside--the Australian Senate has 35% female members, but has never had quotas (there've been quotas in the lower house for some parties). Multi-member districts encourage better gender balance.

But we're still far too far behind on recruiting potential candidates to consider quotas.

In addition, my (female) PPC is hammering the local Labour party regularly over their AWS, especially since the NEC rejected their initial choice and they're redoing the selection.

Most of the countries that have installed quotas also have a more representative electoral system, the countries that are least good are also those that have single member FPTP districts.

We can't have 30%+ female MPs if we haven't got 30% plus potential candidates, as it is we're doing better than can be expected given we don't have many (if any) safe seats to parachute people into anyway.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
29 Mar 2009, 20:17:00

Yeah, Matt - I'm not using fairness as a synonym for anything - what the lawyer was saying, and I think I agree with them, is that fairness is a pretty vague concept.

Re: the 'what would have happened in 2005, had things been different' - you're not seriously putting that forward as an argument are you?

I'm not saying that PR (or forms of it) doesn't help - obviously I'm all for PR and it certainly can help with gender balance. However, it's not enough on its own - look at Scotland - but, in any case, do you know when it's coming in for Westminster?

We don't have enough women coming forward - often because some of the women who should be coming soon understand that there are invisible barriers to them.

Plus, Finland found that they had a significant increase in women coming forward once they put quotas in place.

Re Australia - I should have said national parliament in my piece, but the senate is only one half of the national parliament. I don't like to be so pedantic but I know your very exacting.

Sure there are 'bodies' that have achieved 30% women using PR without quotas but you have to look very closely at the 'unofficial' selection methods (which may be even more offensive to you than quotas, frankly) and also at the relative power of the 'body'. Does the PM come from the Senate of the HoR, for example?

Have a look at this article if you want to get a feel for how important or not quotas are deemed in the changing face of Australian politics:


I follow and support the work of the CFGB very closely but I am not convinced that the encouragement that CFGB (and lets face it, it's hardly properly funded) is able to give out will make a significant difference in the next century. It is a valid thing to do and all part of a mix of action required to get more diversity in UK governance but it's not enough. Would that it were.

As for your PPC hammering her AWS selected opposite number, I doubt it will make any difference to the result - the British electorate are not famed for their desire to vote governments in or out as a result of electoral process - I would imagine the state of the economy will be the thing, if anything, that loses it for her. But you PPC might just end up looking a bit petty.

Jennie said...
29 Mar 2009, 23:39:00

Actually various members of the electorate have commented that Hilary's stance on AWS is a wonderful thing, because most of the electorate really hate them.

AFAIC, equality of opportunity is a worthwhile goal BECAUSE it increases fairness. Equality is worth pursuing because it is unfair that some people are disadvantaged by their gender or race or sexuality or hair colour or whatever. Quotas are just as unfair, and thus I will always oppose them.


Joe Otten said...
1 Apr 2009, 10:23:00

Fairness is nebulous, yes, but so is equality. And that doesn't stop either being important.

I'm not clear why equality is important at all if it isn't on grounds of fairness.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
2 Apr 2009, 09:41:00

Sorry, Joe but the point of the quote from the lawyer was to say that whilst equality can be defined in law, fairness hasn't been.

No,in the eyes of the law equality is not nebulous.

Joe Otten said...
2 Apr 2009, 10:43:00

Well the law can define what it likes - I am talking about the merits of the question.

Equality matters because it is unfair to hold people unequal.

On the other hand if people choose different outcomes for themselves then that is perfectly fair.

The interesting and highly disputable cases arise when an inequality results from neither choice nor imposition, or where the degree of choice or imposition is disputed.


The trouble with fairness - you seem to be saying - is that includes men and businesses. But how can we be fair to women without being fair to men? Or be fair to workers without being fair to businesses? Being fair to A and not B makes as much sense as A being "more equal" than B.

Of course you could make a case for AWS being fair - if seen in the context of the whole country and over time men, may still as many opportunties as women. Quite how you could measure this is another question.


I must say what most bothers me about this equality concept as opposed to fairness - and I guess it is related to Mat's "opportunity v outcome" point - is that it seems to rely on defining people in terms of group identities, and comparing outcomes, by group, with some expectation.

And yet within any and every such group - whether defined by sex, race, religion, or whatever - there are individuals who have struggled against adversity and got nowhere, and individuals who have had every opportunity in life handed to them on a plate. Interventions aimed at groups are always going to help privileged members of that group at the expense of unprivileged non-members.

Inequality within groups is much greater than inequality between groups. And therefore the goal of equal outcomes defined by group identity, is missing the bulk of the inequality problem, that an objective of fairness might at least try to address.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
2 Apr 2009, 14:52:00

Equality matters because it is unfair to hold people unequal.

What do you mean 'hold people unequal?

I'm not saying that the 'trouble' with fairness is that it includes men and businesses. I run my own business and I live with a man - I don't have anything against either of them!

What I am saying is that fairness means something different to absolutely everybody. So every party is for fairness - but if you ask them what that would mean they often have very different answers.

Fairness is an entirely subjective concept.

However, whilst you can argue that so is equality, it has at least been defined in law. That is all I am saying.

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