A summit to combat violence against women set up by Boris Johnson has been branded “absurd” after it emerged the government’s own equalities minister will not attend.
Liz Truss, who holds the dual brief of international trade secretary and minister for women and equalities, will not be at Monday’s crime and justice taskforce, convened amid widespread outcry over the death of Sarah Everard.
The meeting of the cross-Whitehall committee on Monday will be chaired by the prime minister and include Priti Patel, the home secretary, Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, and Cressida Dick, the Met Police commissioner.
Johnson is under renewed pressure to formulate a strategy to tackle violence against women, but no minister from the Government Equalities Office (GEO) will be the meeting, Downing Street has confirmed.
It comes after Everard’s remains were found and a mass vigil was held at Clapham Common, where the 33-year-old was last seen.
Dick has resisted calls for her resignation after police officers were strongly criticised for breaking up the crowd and trampling flowers laid by mourners.
The PM has said he has full confidence in the commissioner and has pledged to bring forward new measures to ensure women’s safety.
But MPs and women’s charities have called the failure to include any equalities minister “disappointing”.
Labour’s shadow secretary for women and equalities Marsha de Cordova called for government to take violence against women more “seriously” as she warned Truss’ role was “not a part-time job”.
Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society chief executive, told HuffPost UK: “It’s right that the prime minister is turning the spotlight on what happened this weekend— urgent action is needed to address violence against women and girls.
“However, it is disappointing to see that a meeting set up to address the needs of women does not include a spokesperson from the women and equalities portfolio, leaving the committee lacking a voice that focuses solely on the needs of women.
“After a year in which the absence of women from the decision-making table has exacerbated inequality, we must see the equality portfolio be given high priority in government, and particularly to be represented at this meeting.”
Wera Hobhouse, the Lib Dem spokesperson for women and equalities said: “Women across the country are feeling let down by this government. If the government is serious about tackling violence against women and girls it seems absurd that the women and equalities minister isn’t attending the taskforce meeting.
“Liz Truss as an equalities ministers has been a huge disappointment. She has failed to stand up for women and has been conspicuously silent on the events on Saturday.”
Ministers face growing calls to act to support women on a number of fronts.
Domestic abuse killings have risen sharply during the Covid lockdown, with chancellor Rishi Sunak allocating an extra £19m in the budget to help refuges cope with demand.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is also under pressure after a steep fall in the number of rape cases which led to prosecution.
The GEO has separately been under fire in recent days, after three LGBTQ advisers quit their posts, criticising ministers for delays to banning conversion therapy.