The Government Equalities Office is set to move to the Cabinet Office as a new sponsor department from April, equalities minister Penny Mordaunt has announced.
When the GEO joins the Cabinet Office – under the machinery-of-government change outlined in parliament – it will be its fourth departmental home in barely more than a decade.
Mordaunt, who is also international development secretary, said the Cabinet Office would be a “permanent home” for the GEO and that the shift was in line with recommendations made by MPs on the Women and Equalities Select Committee earlier this year.
“It will enable the GEO to have even more influence and leverage within government, working with the Race Disparity Unit, and the Office of Disability Issues, and others, to drive meaningful progress on equalities,” she said.
“I think this will be a step-up in the work that the Government Equalities Office can do to reduce inequality in the UK.”
Marcus Shepheard, a researcher at the Institute for Government, said the think tank also viewed basing the GEO in the Cabinet Office as a positive step.
“All departments need the support of the Government Equalities Office,” he said. “Placing it in the Cabinet Office will help it to be more effective by being closer to the heart of government – closer to where decisions are made and where power is exercised.
“This move will help the government to underscore the importance of equality, both internally and externally, and will ensure that the topic remains politically salient.”
The GEO was created in 2007 as an independent department that succeeded the Women and Equality Unit, which was part of the Department for Communities and Local Government.
It was a separate entity until April 2011 when it became based at Home Office under Theresa May, who was both home secretary and equalities minister. Since then it has moved to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, then the Department for Education, and back to the Home Office. The office currently gets its budget from the Home Office but is staffed by the Department for Education.
Often the GEO has moved department because it followed the minister responsible for the brief. However MPs on the Women and Equalities Committee observed in their June report that the moves were not always well-timed, and the rate of churn for both ministers and home department was “unsatisfactory and unsustainable”.
“It is a source of disruption and confusion, both within the civil service and among stakeholders,” MPs said.
“It also risks giving the impression that equality is a low priority for the government, as does the part-time nature of the minister’s role.
“As long as the function is tacked on to an existing portfolio, there is a danger that the policy priorities of that department will either overshadow or dominate the work of the GEO.
“Meanwhile, the relevance of equalities issues to all government departments, even those that would likely never be considered a suitable base for GEO, is diminished by this arrangement.”