How Fair is Britain?

January 13, 2024
7 mins read


Editor’s note: The opinion expressed in this article is that of EHRC.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010.

A new report released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission paints a picture of a largely tolerant and open-minded society, in which some equality gaps have closed over the past generation.

But the study, ‘How fair Is Britain?’ – the most comprehensive compilation of evidence on discrimination and disadvantage ever assembled in Britain – also shows that other long-standing inequalities remain undiminished; and that new social and economic fault-lines are emerging as Britain becomes older and more ethnically and religiously diverse.  The Review also identifies recession, public service reform, management of migration and technological change as major risk factors in progress towards a fairer society.

The first in a series of three yearly reports laid before Parliament, ‘How fair is Britain?’ draws on a range of major datasets and surveys, as well as the Commission’s own research reports, to build a portrait of Britain in 2010. The 700-page report provides the independent evidence and benchmarks for reviewing the state of social justice.

And it identifies five critical ‘gateways to opportunity’ which the Commission says can make the difference between success and failure in life: Health and Well-being: Education and Inclusion; Work and Wealth; Safety and Security; and Autonomy and Voice

The Commission’s findings cover all seven areas of formal discrimination set out in law: age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender status. For the first time, it analyses the gaps in treatment and achievement of these seven social groupings beyond solely economic outcomes – by including factors such as personal autonomy and political influence (‘voice’) alongside education, health, standard of living and personal safety.

The three yearly assessment in the Review, mandated by the Equality Act 2006 will:

provide an evidence base to ensure that action to tackle inequality and ensure fairness is properly targeted
ensure that scarce resources are used in order to protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged from the worst effects of recession, deficit reduction  and public service reform
set objective benchmarks to assess the ‘fairness factor’ in public policy

The report finds that over recent years, public attitudes have become much more tolerant of diversity, and much less tolerant of discrimination. This can be seen in relation to most of the major equality characteristics, including race, gender and sexual orientation.

Opposition to working for an ethnic minority boss or inter-ethnic marriages has dropped; stereotypical views about the roles that men and women should play in family and society have become less prevalent. Perhaps the most dramatic change is in relation to LGB people: a gap of less than 20 years separated the parliamentary debates about Section 28 and civil partnership.

Evidence suggests that the public is strongly in favour of the generic principles of equality, dignity and respect for all. This consensus was reflected by each of the main political parties, which went into the 2010 General Election with some form of explicit commitment to equality.

However, the Review also highlights areas of anxiety. There is evidence that the public thinks that both racial and religious prejudice are on the increase, though this may reflect heightened sensitivities. British people are broadly positive about the economic contribution of many immigrants, but the ‘immigration paradox’ remains: about three quarters of the public say that they are concerned about the scale of immigration at a national level – but about the same proportion feels that immigration is not a problem for their own communities.

The Review also highlights significant gaps in knowledge and data about particular groups – for example, transgender people – and the impact on our ability to tell whether the ideals of equality and fairness are being translated into a practical change for the better in these people’s real lives.

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

“This Review holds up the mirror to fairness in Britain. It is the most complete picture of its kind ever compiled. It shows that we are a people who have moved light years in our attitudes to all kinds of human difference, and in our desire to be a truly fair society – but that we are still a country where our achievements haven’t yet caught up with our aspirations.

“Sixty years on from the Beveridge report and the creation of the welfare state, his five giants of squalor, disease, ignorance, want and idleness have been cut down to size, though they still stalk the land.

“But in the 21st century we face a fresh challenge – the danger of a society divided by the barriers of inequality and injustice. For some, the gateways to opportunity appear permanently closed, no matter how hard they try; whilst others seems to have been issued with an ‘access all areas’ pass at birth. Recession, demographic change and new technology all threaten to deepen the fault lines between insiders and outsiders.

“Our Review has identified the five ‘great gateways’ to opportunity that could open the way to millions.”

The ‘gateways’ identified in the report are:

1.        Health and Well-being:

·           Men and women from the highest social class can expect to live up to seven years longer, on average, than those from lower socio-economic groups (based on life expectancy at birth).

·           Black Caribbean and Pakistani babies are twice as likely to die in their first year as Bangladeshi or White British babies.

2.       Education and Inclusion:

·           Girls achieve better results than boys at age five in England, and at age 16 in England, Scotland and Wales, and in every ethnic group.  In 2009 female university students outnumbered men by a ratio of roughly 4:3. Women are also more likely than men to get first-class or upper second-class degrees.

·           Girls and women tend to be concentrated in some courses which tend to lead to relatively poorly-rewarded jobs.

·           Forty-four per cent of Black, Indian and Pakistani students are at ‘new’ universities compared to 35 per cent of others. Eight per cent of Black students are at Russell Group institutions, compared to 24 per cent of White students.

·           Seventeen per cent of children with special educational needs get five good GCSEs including English and Maths, compared to 61 per cent of children without identified special needs.

·           At age five, 35 per cent of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals achieved a good level of development, compared to 55 per cent of pupils not eligible for free school meals.

·           Apart from Gypsy and Traveller children, the performance of White British boys on free school meals at GCSE is the lowest of any group defined by gender, free school meals status and ethnic group; by contrast the highest performing group at sixteen are Chinese girls, with those on free school meals outranking every other group except better-off Chinese girls.

3.       Work and Wealth:

·           The mean gender pay gap for women and men working full-time in 2009 was 16.4 per cent; and progress today appears to be grinding to a halt. Women aged 40 earn on average 27 per cent less than men of the same age. Women with degrees are estimated to face only a four per cent loss in lifetime earnings as a result of motherhood, while mothers with no qualifications face a 58 per cent loss.

·           By the age of 22-24, figures suggest that 44 per cent of Black people are not in education, employment or training, compared to fewer than 25 per cent of White people.  One in four Bangladeshi and Pakistani women work, compared with nearly three in four White British women, and only 47 per cent of Muslim men and 24 per cent of Muslim women are employed.

·           Pakistani and Bangladeshi men’s earnings fall 13 per cent and 21 per cent below what might be expected, and Black African Christian and Chinese men experience pay penalties of 13 per cent and 11 per cent.

·           Fifty per cent of disabled adults are in work, compared to 79 per cent of non-disabled adults.

4.       Safety and Security:

·           Two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender secondary students report that they have been victims of often severe bullying (17 per cent of those bullied reported having received death threats). Homophobic bullying also seems to be more common in faith schools.

·           Domestic violence is associated with a higher rate of repeat-victimisation than any other kind of violent or acquisitive crime: in 2009/10, 76 per cent of all incidents of domestic violence in England and Wales were repeat offences.

·           The number of women prisoners has nearly doubled since 1995 in England and Wales, and since 2000 in Scotland.

·           On average, five times more Black people than White people are imprisoned in England and Wales and there is now greater disproportionality in the number of Black people in prisons in Britain than in the USA.

5.       Autonomy and Voice:

·           One in eight people in England provide unpaid care to adults.

·           One in four women and nearly one in five men in their fifties are carers.

·           The number of people aged 65 and over with care and support needs is estimated to rise by 87 per cent between 2001 and 2051.

·           It is projected that due to the increasing age of the population, nearly 1.3 million disabled older people will require informal care by 2041 up by around 90 per cent.

·           175,000 people under 18 have caring responsibilities and a disproportionate number of young carers are from certain ethnic minority backgrounds (including Bangladeshi, Black African, Black Caribbean and Pakistani backgrounds).

·           Women represent less than a quarter of Westminster MPs and barely three in 10 councillors in England.  Four per cent of Westminster MPs are from an ethnic minority background.

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