Interview with Lynne Featherstone MP for Hornsey& Wood Green, Lib Dem Spokesperson on Equalities

Q.what inspired you to become an MP?
There were a number of drivers that led to my following a political path – not so much inspiration but a driving need to change things. Examples wouldbe:
– When I worked as a volunteer in the Royal Free hospital I saw that virtually every piece of equipment was donated by a family related to a specific disease and that, in the highly clinical dependent ward I was on, when (rarely) a nurse had time to plump a sick patients pillows – they perked up despite their dreadful condition. As personallly satisfying as volunteering was – it didn’t change anything – and only getting into the political process would so do
– when I look back over my early activities, I see that even when at school, I would visit old people – whether they wanted to be visited or not. So – the desire to help people was there very early on.
– I could never bear injustice – nor keep my mouth shut when I witnessed such in front of my eyes. I wanted to fight injustice on a bigger scale.

There were, in fact, many, many reasons I ended up an MP but mostly I have worked in a direction rather than wanting to ‘be an MP’ because it’s what you can do – not what you are – that counts.

Q. Do you feel the Equalities legislation will end discrimination for people with disabilities such as those experiencing mental distress?

I don’t think that the Equality Bill will ‘end’ discrimination for anyone – but it is a step in the right direction. In terms of those with ‘mental distress’ – the Bill doesn’t really deal with that area even though there are a lot of equality issues around the treatment of people with any sort of mental health challenge.

Q.What is your response to the Conservatives in the lack of support for this vital piece of legislation?

It’s worse than that really – as they are saying that they support much of the Bill – but during committee stage and other stages – they have voted against or abstained on really crucial issues like equal pay for women. I think the real truth is that they want people to believe they are new cuddly Tories – but in reality their traditional positioning hasn’t changed.

Q. What a approach would a Lib Dem government take in the area of Equalities compared to Labour & Conservatives?
Interestingly, the Labour government have been relatively good on equality issues and whilst I believe the Equality Bill is a lost opportunity and is a rather weak piece of legislation – it is still a better than nothing – and brings together a lot of bits and pieces of the Equality agenda in the one place. But it fails on some key areas – all of which would be LibDem policy:

mandatory pay audits, representative action, hypothetical comparators (all equal pay issues); homophobic bullying is not dealt with in a way that gives equal status to other discriminations; remove the blanket ban on blood donations by homosexuals; make job appplications anonymous (at least at entry level) so that no one can be discriminated on the basis of having a foreign sounding name; give equal protection to those with gender identity issues; removal of the mandatory retirement age and a lot more than I can write here!

As to the different approach to the Tories – I just don’t believe that they believe in equality.

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