As we celebrate the arrival of the Prince of Cambridge, we really can celebrate the fact that this Royal baby is a child of its time. This is the first Royal baby to be born after the coming into force of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, the result of which was to ensure that gender plays no part in determining the issue of succession to the Crown. Whilst, on this occasion, this change in the law has no practical effect, the principle involved is hugely significant and tells us that this Monarchy is prepared to embrace change, removing one of the last remaining areas where discrimination has been allowed to take place in the past in order to reflect more modern times.
In keeping with this principle, Prince William will embrace his employment rights and take his statutory paternity leave. He is expected to take two weeks' leave, after which he will return to his job as an RAF Search and Rescue pilot. This sets a great example to others that family-friendly workplace practices are there for a good reason and should be utilised by employees instead of being regarded as an unnecessary drain on the employer's time and resources.
And what a week it has been for equality issues. It is only a matter of days since the approval of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which will enable same-sex couples in England and Wales to marry. The Scottish Government is now being urged by campaigners to follow suit. Scotland, in the meantime, was busy generating its own discrimination debacle, in the form of the much publicised debate over The Open Golf Championship. Should it have been allowed to take place at Muirfield given the Club's ban on female membership? The Chief Executive of the R&A admitted that it was a subject they were finding "increasingly difficult". If the British Monarchy can modernise though, surely it is time for golf's governing body to exert their influence on clubs to do likewise? It was clear from some of the comments made by those competing in The Open that these practices have no real place in the modern game.
So in a week where we have observed numerous examples of out-of-date practices being tackled head-on, it is worth looking at some of the other areas where protection against inequality is not currently available and to consider what is being done to address these.
One problem which is prevalent in parts of the UK containing concentrated populations of Indian descent, is caste discrimination. Approximately 260 million people worldwide are estimated to be affected by this issue. In April this year, the Government did a U-turn on its previous decision not to legislate on this issue and announced that it would include caste-discrimination within the Equality Act as an aspect of race discrimination. Since then, it has asked the Equality and Human Rights Commission to examine the nature of caste prejudice and harassment in the UK and to advise what measures are necessary to address the issue. Whilst many parts of the UK will be relatively unaffected by these changes, anyone familiar with how the caste system operates will know how great a problem this can be. Those who believe in and promote the caste system consider that a person's caste is determined by birth. It can never change. Those in the lowest castes continue to be shunned both socially and economically by higher caste members still promoting the system.
But whilst moves to outlaw caste discrimination will resolve economic inequalities for those affected by the caste system, one of the largest areas of unresolved inequality in the UK is that caused by socio-economic factors. Those from less affluent backgrounds are more likely to live life in poor health. In addition, there is a strong connection between the socio-economic profile of schools and their results, meaning that access to further education for those from poorer backgrounds is likely to be restricted on an on-going basis. Despite this, the draft provisions in the Equality Act which proposed to tackle this issue in the public sector were never actually implemented and there are no plans to address that issue. Why not? The official explanation was put down to the Government's appetite for reducing bureaucracy. Whilst bureaucracy is inevitably costly, surely you have to do the cost-benefit analysis too? The benefit to those most affected by the issue would be massive. It leaves a lingering feeling that the issue is just too big a hornet's nest to stir.
Maybe the best we can hope for is that by the time that the Prince of Cambridge is reigning over us, this most difficult of inequalities to address might have been remedied. Whether Muirfield will have Lady Members by then though is anyone's guess.