A new National Equality Panel will be established to “map out” changes in life chances for people over the last decade, in an attempt to tackle inequality in Britain.

Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Equality, told the TUC conference today:

“Equality matters more than ever and it is necessary for individuals, a peaceful society and a strong economy.

“We have made great progress on tackling inequality but we know that inequality doesn’t just come from your gender, race, sexual orientation or disability.

“To advance equality through our public policy, we need clarity of evidence and focus on the gaps in society and how they have changed over the last ten years.”

Liberal Democrat equality spokesperson Lynne Featherstone said that “yet another quango” would not help social inequality.

“A panel of experts is not going to tell them anything that charities and NGOs haven’t been shouting from the rooftops about for some time – inequality is growing,” she said.

“Labour ministers have become well versed in asking for a second opinion whenever they don’t like the first.

“Hundreds of thousands of people continue to struggle with the odds stacked against them, yet the Government continues to dither rather than act.”

Ms Harman attacked the Tory party’s record on equality during her TUC speech.

“It is no surprise, if you look at the pattern of equality legislation, with Labour governments in the 1960s and 1970s pioneering new legislation to tackle race discrimination, unfairness in pay for women and sex discrimination, then the Labour government again coming in 1997 extending our equality laws for people with disabilities, older people on grounds of sexual orientation,” she said.

“So Labour governments have always championed equality.

“And what did the Tories do when they were in power for 18 years? Can anybody remember the equality laws they brought in? Not one. Not one during 18 years unless, of course, you count Clause 28.

“They are the false friends of equality and fairness because, although they are now sidling up to trade unionists, fawning over equality campaigns and lurking around women’s organisations, they are still false friends of fairness because the Tory Party which bought this country back to basics now says it recognises that families come in all shapes and sizes.”

Ms Harman said Tory leader David Cameron “wants women for one thing and one thing only, and that is their votes.”

Tory equality spokeswoman Theresa May told The Guardian:

“Harriet Harman is stuck in the class-warfare rhetoric of 20 years ago. She needs to wake up and realise that this is the 21st century and her party is still failing on equality.” 

The new Equality Bill, which will be formally announced in the Queen’s Speech in December, is part of the government’s “equality agenda.”

It includes proposals for all public bodies to promote equality for gay and lesbian people.

The bill is intended to be an extension of the current duty on public authorities to actively promote equality into services like fostering, magistrates courts and health clinics, to make their services more accessible to LGB people.

The Equality Bill was broadly welcomed by the Conservative and Lib Dem front benches when it was announced in the House of Commons in June.