Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Equal Opportunity and Nanny Statism

I've been, er, busy. And have moved overseas. Anyway...

On the face of it "Equal Opportunity" sounds like A Good Thing. When you apply for a job, it shouldn't matter whether you are blind, deaf, white, black, Irish, Chinese, homosexual, Jewish, Muslim or Sikh. Your ability to do the job is the only thing that matters. From this, I would have thought that the information about your ethnic/racial background, disability status, religion (or lack thereof) and sexual orientation would be completely irrelevant.

In Britain, it's not.

I recently (yesterday) applied for a position with a public institution (a university) where at the end of the application form it had a page labelled "Equal opportunities application monitoring". This page proceeded to ask my gender (irrelevant), nationality (irrelevant - I'd already confirmed my right to work in the UK previously in the application), cultural background (irrelevant for this position*), whether I consider myself to have a disability (irrelevant), religion I affiliate with (irrelevant*), sexual orientation (irrelevant), if I'm related to any member of the University (relevant), criminal activity (irrelevant for this position**) and whether I'd worked for the university previously.

My response to those - which I didn't write down - was to ask why is is information then collected, and why does it matter? If it really is "equal opportunities" then the only pieces of information where I could see some relevance was whether I had a relative in or had previously worked for the university - I would guess to prevent any unfair advantages through the interview and candidate review process.

Of course, I forgot. I'm in Britain. There's a reason that it gets labelled the nanny state.

It's not the first time I've noticed this theme - the cameras are the obvious ones, but it's also the news. Currently there's a "credit crunch" going on, and the overriding theme from people seems to be that it's the governments' fault, and that the government should be the white knight to protect them from all the ridiculous decisions they've made in their lives. Example: a "documentary" called "The Cost of the Credit Crunch", where you were shown a range of sob stories where people have made decisions that weren't financially wise, and one and all they blamed the government. Exactly what the government is meant to do when you don't read a contract properly and only use the company you're dealing with's lawyers, I'm not sure. Or when you overreach on the number of products you've ordered and paid for and suddenly your debtors don't, won't, can't pay up.

I'm not denying it that there's people are doing it hard nor is it the case that I don't feel sorry for them (sometimes, to be honest), but there's a culture here to blameshift, and to try avoiding any personal responsibility. Of course, perhaps it's that these documentaries have the same amount of credibility as TodayTonight, A Current Affair and newspapers... or pretty much 90% of media in Australia.

* There would be some cultural backgrounds that would prevent a person from undertaking some roles. There are also some religious backgrounds that would prevent a person from fulfilling a role properly - say, a Catholic in an abortion clinic. Which reminds me of the new legislation in Victoria - discussed at Hoyden About Town and An Onymous Lefty.

** Mind you, perhaps if I had record for fraud, libel (which is possibly a civil offence?) or stealing equipment from my work offices...