I am reminded of the time when as a youth worker, I organised a trip to cycle round Grafham Water, everyone had an equal opportunity to participate. When we arrived we discovered that one young woman couldn't ride a bicycle................she had exactly the same chance to participate as everyone else, except, we hadn't checked that everyone could ride a bike! Similarly I can remember asking a youth club manager what he did to ensure equality in his youth club, his response was, "anyone can come here". But it was noticeable that in his youth club, in an area with a high Asian population, there were hardly any Asian young women. So for me, equality has never been about treating everyone the same, rather recognising that treating everyone the same just compounds existing inequalities.
So, we clearly need to hear a lot more from both Chris and Nick on this. The implication is that Nick's talk of meritocracy means he doesn't believe in equality. I am not too sure how that works? I have spent most of my working life trying to get young people, blinded by this passive consumerist, instant gratification age, to consider the relationship between effort and reward. And by reward I don't mean financial (although it could be) but more about the satisfaction of achievement. I firmly believe that one of the ways to tackle inequality is to ensure far more young people have those sorts of opportunities. The number of young people I have worked with who I was able to provide the very first opportunity to see the sea, climb a mountain, walk in a wood - things so many of us take for granted, simple things that can inspire and motivate. And from there to go on to greater achievements, the young women I worked with who saw their work exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
So it seems to me, if we want a more equal society we do need to look seriously at the huge and widening gap between rich and poor and consider what can be done in terms of policy to address it. That is why frankly I think we were mad to drop our 50p in the pound tax pledge, why we should be looking at taking those on the minimum wage out of tax altogether and why we should be looking again at LVT.
Also to recognise that our education system is deeply flawed with those in the poorest areas often condemned to poor quality schools and few resources, where choice is a key facet - for those with the resources to exercise that choice! So our pupil premium is an excellent idea. I would also like to see a reward system for teachers that ensured the best teachers were attracted to work in difficult schools, but frankly, more radically, I think we have to have a good hard look at the whole education system. I often say, slightly tongue in cheek, that I left teaching (to go into Youth Work) because I was interested in learning........for so many children and young people school is part of the problem not the solution. We don't put lime loving plants into acid soil and blame the plants if they don't thrive, but we do that to children every day of the week. And of course a subject close to my heart, lets really invest in exciting opportunities for those young people who have very few. Opportunities for them to lift their eyes and their aspirations. Opportunities to recognise and develop their interests and talents.
Of course there are lots of other things we could be doing, not least investing in housing and overhauling the benefits system (which our policy is beginning to address). One of my arguments against the idea of it all being about Education Education Education, is that for those young people growing up in poverty, in poor, cramped housing and sometimes with not enough to eat, education is not necessarily number one on their agenda!
Oh and one more thing, I am interested in what our candidates have to say about equality within our own party, that might after all, contribute to our own ability to develop policy that reaches the parts other parties can't.