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Socialism Today 143 - November 2010

Britain: the big divides

THE REPORT released last month by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), How Fair is Britain, shows in fact that Britain is a deeply unfair society, even though it has become more diverse and tolerant in some ways. Aside from entrenched inequality and discrimination, other statistics stand out in the report. One in six English adults and one quarter of Welsh adults are functionally illiterate. Half of English and Welsh adults lack basic maths skills. Up to two million people provide unpaid care, worth £87 billion annually.

Women live longer than men, but are much more likely to be killed by men, than men by women. Over half of women’s homicides in 2008-09 were by partners/ex-partners. One in four adult women suffer domestic violence, of which 75% suffer repeatedly. Rape convictions remain low. Girls do better in education, but are much more likely to work in ‘personal services’ or the public sector, are paid less and often have part-time jobs. The gender pay gap rises with age: up to 27% less for women employees aged 40. Women are much more likely to receive only some of the state pension and to provide unpaid domestic care. Women are slightly more likely to vote, but make up fewer than a quarter of MPs, make up a minority in the devolved administrations in Welsh and Scotland, and only 20-30% of councillors in Britain.

People with disabilities comprise 70% or more of school exclusions and are less likely to attend university. Employment among disabled men without formal qualifications has fallen to 38%, and falls below that for disabled youth. The pay gap for disabled men is 11%, and rises to two to three times that for disabled women. Poverty is widespread, and up to 500,000 ill or disabled people actually provide care for others.

Ethnic minorities are much more likely to be killed (one-quarter of homicides from 2006/07 to 2008/09) or imprisoned. "There is now", says the report, "greater disproportionality in the number of black people in prisons in Britain than in the USA". Ill health and mental illness afflicts ethnic minorities more due, at least in part, to poverty and racism. Educational gaps have narrowed in some respects but remain wide and only 10% of black students, compared to 25% of their white counterparts, attend the top 20 universities.

Working-class people from ethnic minorities are much more likely to be unemployed and are concentrated in particular occupations. Black workers are paid an average of 24% less than white workers. A third of Bangladeshi households live below the poverty line. Asian people often lack savings and, together with black people, face poverty in both retirement and childhood. Ethnic minority youth are disproportionately likely to be carers. Involvement in, and confidence to affect, local decision-making is felt to be higher by ethnic minorities, as is campaigning or participation in community organisations. Holding elected office, however, is considerably less likely.

Religious discrimination is ten times more frequently directed at non-Christian faiths. Muslims are more likely to be imprisoned (12% of prisoners), and vastly more likely to be out of work.

Homophobia in education and workplaces is rife. Two thirds of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) students and half of secondary-school teachers report bullying as common. At least 17% of bullied LGB youth have received death threats. Reports of discrimination by LGB workers is twice the average. A similar situation faces transgendered people. ‘Out’ MPs increased by four to 17 this year and LGB people seem to be and feel more involved politically or in the community.

Social class is mentioned in terms of poverty and deprivation. A seven-year gap separates life expectancy of the richest and poorest tenths. Suicide rates in the ‘most deprived’ areas are double those of the ‘least deprived’. The average household wealth of the top 10% is almost 100 times more than the £8,800 average of the poorest 10%. Lower incomes correspond to ill health, poor diet, lack of regular exercise, lower attainment in education, greater likelihood of needing care and also of providing it unpaid for family and children. The ‘non-professional’ occupations are less likely to vote and less likely to be politicians. Confidence to influence local decision-making fell under New Labour and is lower among ‘non-professional’ occupations.

The EHRC concludes with 15 recommendations ‘to close the gap’ in health, life expectancy, pay, employment, educational achievement, etc, and to tackle hate crimes and bullying. Meanwhile, the Con-Dem coalition prepares for the most savage austerity measures for a generation…

Hugh Caffrey


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