How Fair is Britain?
October 19 2010 - The first triennial report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published in October 2010 concludes that while Britain has made good progress in addressing inequalities and tolerating diversity, significant barriers to a fairer society remain. How fair is Britain? gives insight into opportunities and outcomes for people in Britain according to age, gender, disability, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender status. It considers fundamental areas such as life expectancy, health, education and employment as well as security, support and power.
Trevor Phillips, chair of the EHRC said:
"Britain is a country which is more tolerant than at any time in living memory, more intolerant of discrimination - but which has yet to live up to its own aspirations. In short, we are a more fair-minded people than previous generations - but we are not yet a fair society."
With supplementary research into the area of employment conducted by the Policy Studies Institute, the report confirms that the percentage of women and black people in work has increased by twice the average between the mid-1990s and 2006-08. The increase for Bangladeshi and Pakistani people is three times the average. Only 25 per cent of British Muslim women are in paid employment. Indian and Chinese people are twice as likely to be employed in the professions as their white British counterparts.
The economic situation is restricting opportunities for those without qualifications. The employment rate for men who also have disabilities has fallen by 50 per cent since the 1970s.
The Commission highlights continuing occupational segregation in the job market. Examples cited include 25 per cent of Pakistani men whose main work is taxi driving and the gender differential in public service employment (over 40 per cent of women compared to 15 per cent of men).
This contributes to a persistent pay gap. The report finds that, on average, a 40-year old man working in the private or voluntary sector earns 27 per cent more than his female equivalent.
The report cites some evidence that black graduates may earn a quarter less than white counterparts. Men with disabilities earn about 11 per cent less than other male employees. Comparing women with disabilities to men without, the gap increases to 31 per cent. Pay gaps and insecure employment contribute to poverty in later life.
In Britain, women workers continue to predominate in some sectors but are significantly underrepresented in others. Examples include: personal services (83 per cent); secretarial and administrative jobs (77 per cent); architects, planners and surveyors (14 per cent) and engineering (6 per cent).
Lesbian, gay and bisexual employees and those with disabilities are about twice as likely to report discrimination, bullying or harassment in the workplace than other workers.
Trevor Phillips said:
"For some, the gateways to opportunity appear permanently closed, no matter how hard they try, whilst others seem 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."
In a report for independent think tank Civitas, Peter Saunders, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Sussex, challenges some of the conclusions in the report, particularly the notion that unequal outcomes are inevitably unfair. For example, he argues that men and women should be free to choose career paths that best utilize their skills and interests. The low representation of Bangladeshi and Pakistani women in the British workforce reflects a cultural emphasis on traditional gender roles, rather than prejudice on the part of employers.
David Green, director of Civitas commented:
"[The EHRC's] determination to treat every group disparity as the result of discrimination and it's enthusiasm for using 'corrective measures' to alter the facts on the ground is likely to multiply injustices rather than rectify them."