Every 5 years, the Cabinet Office is tasked with reviewing and – if necessary – modifying the Royal Honours scheme. This includes diversity reporting and also the priorities set by the Prime Minister for areas that they wish to see a particular focus for recognition.
The most recent update was issued in May 2023.
Below is our overview of the key points….
Summary of Key Developments
During the reporting period, the honours system has focused on enhancing integrity, fairness, and accessibility. Several key developments have taken place, including:
1. Bespoke Online Nomination Form: A dedicated online nomination form was developed between 2020 and 2022 to recognize exceptional contributions made during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. This initiative resulted in thousands of additional awards to individuals who demonstrated exceptional service and care in their communities.
2. Simplification of the Permanent Public Nomination Process: The permanent public nomination process was simplified to improve accessibility and intuitiveness, making it easier for individuals to submit nominations.
3. New Honours Website: A purpose-built honours website was launched, providing clearer information and transparency about the honours system’s operations.
4. Promoting Diversity and Inclusion: Continued efforts were made to promote diversity and inclusion within the honours system, ensuring that it reflects the diverse society we live in.
5. Honours Festival 2022: The Honours Festival was held to encourage public engagement and participation with the honours system.
6. Handling Changes Arising from the Death of Queen Elizabeth II: Adjustments were made to the honours system to accommodate changes following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, ensuring the system remains robust.
7. Changes to Forfeiture of Honours Process: Reforms were made to the forfeiture of honours process.
8. Reform of Appointment Process: The appointment process for the honours committees was reformed to align with best practices for public appointments.
Prime Minister’s Strategic Priorities
The Prime Minister’s strategic priorities guide the direction of the honours system. The priorities set by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in May 2020 have been in effect for most of the reporting period. These priorities include recognizing:
1. Innovators and Entrepreneurs: Individuals who create thriving businesses, foster growth, and expand into new markets.
2. Excellence in Emerging Sectors: Those who drive innovation, develop new technologies, contribute to environmental sustainability, and enhance global biodiversity.
3. Excellence in Culture and Education: Individuals who excel in the fields of culture and education.
4. Charitable and Volunteer Contributions: Recognizing charities, groups, and individuals who bring meaningful change to their communities, address crime, improve the local environment, and promote female education globally.
5. Acts of Bravery: Individuals who risk their own lives to protect and defend others.
6. Exceptional Public Service: Public servants and individuals in public life who provide exceptional support and assistance to the people of the United Kingdom.
7. Support for the Union: Recognizing efforts that contribute to the unity of all four constituent nations of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister emphasized that honours should be awarded based on merit and not simply for fulfilling job roles or based on longevity or seniority. He emphasized the importance of representation from all regions of the UK and recognizing contributions from often overlooked areas.
Diversity and Inclusion
The honours system has taken steps to increase both the number and diversity of nominations received, reflecting the ongoing reform efforts. The actions taken have demonstrated the system’s independence while addressing perceptions of it being closed-off.
Efforts to improve diversity have resulted in significant progress:
1. Gender Diversity: Around 70% of honours recipients on each list are recognized for community, voluntary, and charitable service. Half of all honours awarded go to women, with an increasing percentage of higher honours (CBE and above) awarded to women.
2. Ethnic Diversity: Over 10% of awards have consistently gone to recipients from ethnic minority backgrounds during the reporting period. Long-term data shows an increase in honours recipients from ethnic minorities, rising from around 6% in 2014 to over 15% in recent years.
3. Socio-Economic Background: Data on the socio-economic background of recipients has been collected since New Year 2020. At New Year 2023, 29.2% of recipients identified themselves as being from a lower socio-economic background.
4. Regional Diversity: There is a need for improvement in regional representation in honours lists. Statistical analysis shows that certain parts of the UK are consistently better represented in honours lists, while others are underrepresented. Efforts are ongoing to address this disparity.
5. Disability Representation: Further data is required to understand the representation of nominees and recipients with disabilities. The Secretariat acknowledges the need for more work in this area.
Diversity of Public Nominations
The Honours and Appointments Secretariat has collaborated with honours teams, third-party advocates, and strategic partners to raise awareness and encourage diverse nominations. Working closely with organizations linked to underrepresented groups, targeted initiatives have improved transparency and perception of the honours system among the public.
Public engagement events, including sector-specific sessions, have aimed to encourage nominations from underrepresented groups, such as those from underrepresented regions, Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, women, and individuals with disabilities.
Communication campaigns have been launched ahead of each honours list, highlighting recipients and their contributions, both nationally and regionally. The focus has been on showcasing the achievements of “ordinary” people who have made extraordinary contributions.
Efforts have been made to increase the engagement of people with disabilities in the honours system and improve accessibility:
1. Partnering with the Cabinet Office Disability Unit: Successful campaigns were carried out in partnership with the Cabinet Office Disability Unit to encourage nominations for and by people with disabilities.
2. British Sign Language and Easy Read Materials: Honours sessions were translated into British Sign Language, and “easy read” versions of the nomination form and guidance were produced to assist individuals with disabilities or those with learning needs.
3. Honours Guidance in Multiple Languages: Honours guidance was made available in languages commonly spoken in the UK to facilitate engagement with the honours system across different communities.
The Honours Diversity Committee was established in September 2020 to ensure the honours system is representative of UK society. The committee supports outreach efforts, identifies policy improvements, promotes diversity in the honours system, and supports the independent honours committees.
The committee is led by an independent chair, supported by the Secretariat and members from the independent honours committees. It focuses on best practices, diversity targets, and fair evaluation of candidates.
A dedicated COVID-19 nomination form and process were introduced in May 2020. Over the official period, 6,789 nominations related to COVID-19 were made. The form streamlined the consideration process and allowed the public to nominate individuals who responded to the pandemic. The Birthday Honours List 2020 was deferred to include additional nominees for COVID-19 service.
The effectiveness of the COVID-19 nomination process influenced revisions to the standard nomination form.
During the reporting period, the honours system has made significant progress in enhancing integrity, fairness, and accessibility. Developments such as the bespoke online nomination form, simplified public nomination process, and improved transparency through a new honours website have contributed to a more effective and inclusive system.
Promoting diversity and inclusion has been a key focus, resulting in increased representation of women, ethnic minorities, and individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Efforts to improve regional diversity and disability representation continue, and collaborations with stakeholders have played a crucial role in encouraging nominations from underrepresented groups.
The COVID-19 nomination process demonstrated the system’s agility and adaptability in recognizing those who made exceptional contributions during the pandemic.
As the honours system progresses, it remains committed to recognizing outstanding achievements, promoting diversity and inclusion, andreflecting the extraordinary contributions made by individuals across all regions and sectors of the UK.
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