The rise of the woke bureaucracy

New research published by the TaxPayers’ Alliance last week shows that, in the past three years, Britain’s cash-strapped councils have almost doubled their spending on ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ (EDI) roles

Britain’s local councils are facing grave money troubles – but if you thought such dire financial straits would prompt local authorities to focus only on the essentials, you would be sorely mistaken, writes Laurie Wastell.

New research published by the TaxPayers’ Alliance last week shows that, in the past three years, Britain’s cash-strapped councils have almost doubled their spending on ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ (EDI) roles, Laurie continues.

The number of these roles ballooned from 474 in 2020-21 to 717 in 2022-23. They are handsomely remunerated, too. An ‘assistant director of community services and EDI’ can net a tidy £103,000 a year in bankrupt Birmingham. Even amid the funding crisis, new postings continue to appear, often with innovative titles such as a ‘staying well team manager’ or a ‘diversity, inclusion and wellbeing adviser’.

All of this can be traced back to the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), which is embedded in the Equality Act. The PSED obliges all public bodies to ‘encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons is disproportionately low’.

This may sound innocuous enough, but it essentially commits all public bodies to a programme of bit-by-bit social engineering to achieve suitably ‘proportionate’ employment outcomes through wheezes like ‘positive action’ and diversity quotas. Councils – as well as government departments, the civil service, the BBC, the NHS and the armed forces – must all set themselves goals for how ‘diverse’ they think they ought to be, and then see to it that they achieve them.

This invariably steers public bodies away from their actual purpose, encouraging them to focus instead on demonstrating their woke credentials. It also means they are essentially obliged to hire woke pen-pushers. 

As you might expect, plenty of Conservative MPs and ministers have come out of the woodwork to express outrage at all this bureaucratic bloat. But if these complaints about public-sector wokery were at all serious, they would long ago have revoked the PSED. That they haven’t speaks volumes.

In truth, the Tories have not just ignored the growing EDI bureaucracy during their 14 years in office. They have also actively encouraged it. After all, it was ‘woke and proud’ Theresa May who, as prime minister, brought in mandatory annual reporting of the public-sector gender pay gap in 2017. Making this a legal requirement has put the equalities bureaucracy on steroids.

Thanks to the Tories, the UK is now a world leader in woke bureaucracy. Only a total overhaul can right this course.

Worth reading in full.

EDI policies of the kind dreamt up by woke bureaucrats – e.g., unconscious bias training, anti-racism training, learning how to spot ‘microaggressions’ – have long been a source of concern for the FSU, with approximately 5% (or 100) of our 2,000 cases arising directly from EDI being imposed in some way at work.

These 100 EDI cases range from employees simply raising concerns about a new policy through to disciplinaries, or even dismissal, for asking the ‘wrong’ questions during an EDI training course, sometimes after a course leaders has assured participants they’re in a ‘safe space’ and can speak freely without fear of repercussions.

In total, 20% (or 400) of our cases have involved workplace investigations, employee suspensions or employee dismissals. Many of these outcomes can also be traced back to a company’s EDI policy, or to a social media policy that refers to the EDI policy.

In summary, our concerns with EDI policies are as follows:

  • They are often used to enforce controversial and deeply political ideas that originated in what have been described as ‘grievance studies’ departments in US universities (gender studies, queer studies, whiteness studies), such as critical race theory (including the idea that all white people are privileged and it’s not enough for them to be non-racist, they must be ‘anti-racist’) and gender identity ideology.
  • The suppression of dissent on the grounds that certain opinions are contrary to a company’s EDI policies is often extended to things employees’ say outside the workplace, such as on their personal social media accounts.
  • Overzealous enforcement of EDI policies often means companies end up in breach of the Equality Act 2010 which prohibits discriminating against employees on the basis of their ‘protected’ religious or philosophical beliefs, the ‘Maya Forstater’ case being a good example.

In one of our recent research briefings, Woke, Ltd., written by FSU Director of Data and Impact Tom Harris, we point to the ways in which EDI policies are having a chilling effect on free speech within the workplace. You can read that report in full here.