11 Oct 2010

Equality report exposes a divided Britain

The gateway of opportunity is closed for millions while attempts to fix the pay gap are “grinding to a halt”, according to a new report. Campaigners tell Channel 4 News the divisions are a “disgrace”.

A “landmark” study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has found that for thousands in Britain the gateway of opportunity remains permanently closed.

In many instances race, gender and the gap between the rich and the poor define the winners and losers in British life. The report said there were also fears racial and religious prejudice was on the increase.

The EHRC identified five “gateways to opportunity” including health, education, work and wealth, which can make the difference between success and failure.

Gender pay gap
One of the main findings of the 700-page report entitled How Fair is Britain? found moves toward achieving equal pay between men and women were “grinding to a halt” due to long-standing inequalities which remain.

The gender pay gap has fallen for the past 30 years, but progress seemed to have “halted”, with full-time women workers earning 16.4 per cent less than men.

“The state of fairness in the UK will nosedive as the effects of public spending cuts hit home.” Bronwyn McKenna, Unison

Women with no qualifications faced a 58 per cent loss in earnings over their lifetime if they had children, while all women aged 40 earned 27 per cent less than men of the same age, said the Commission.

Disabled men earned 11 per cent less than other male workers, while the gap was 22 per cent for women. Black graduates faced a pay penalty of up to 24 per cent, the study suggested.

In education just seven per cent of black students are at Russell Group universities, compared with 24 per cent of white students.

Geographically, more adults in Wales are disadvantaged by low skills and qualifications than any other part of Britain. One in four Welsh adults lack basic literacy skills in contrast to one in six in England overall.

One in two people in England and Wales lack functional numeracy. Thirty-three per cent of working age Muslim women have no qualifications, and only nine per cent have a degree.

An analysis of living standards showed that income poverty still affected some groups of women, ethnic minority groups and families with disabled members.

Total household wealth of the top 10 per cent in society was almost 100 times higher than for the poorest 10 per cent, while one in five people lived in a household with less than 60 per cent of average income.

Still no equal pay and cuts loom - but will people protest?
A report out today concludes that progress in closing the gender pay gap is “grinding to a halt”, writes Jon Snow.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission says that on average women earn 16 per cent less than men, widening to 27 per cent for women aged 40. There’s little likelihood of any Made in Dagenham-style action on this front however.

The serendipitous timing of the release of "Made in Dagenham" could prove awkward, especially with any student audience. Not long after the 187 women machinists struck at the Ford plant, my student generation were on the streets protesting anything we could think of.

Read more

One in 10 people lived in polluted and grimy neighbourhoods, with crime, violence and vandalism more likely to affect women with children and many ethnic minority groups, according to the report.

On average, five times more black people than white people are jailed in England and Wales.

Unison official Bronwyn McKenna told Channel 4 News that gender and pay divisions were a “disgrace”.

“More than 40 years after laws were passed to protect women, it is a disgrace that mothers without qualifications can still expect a 58 per cent loss of earnings over their lifetime,” she said.

“Women need action to stamp out stubborn pay discrimination. Boosting transparency, having regular gender pay audits, and updating the law to make it easier for women to challenge their pay, would be giant leaps towards fairness.

“But just as women need more protection, the coalition government is consulting on watering down existing equality rules. This would be a huge step backwards.

“The state of fairness in the UK will nosedive as the effects of public spending cuts hit home.

“Women will bear the brunt of the cuts, as the main groups of people working in, and making use of, public services.

“Vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities and the disabled are also well represented in the public sector workforce, and will suffer as jobs and services they rely on disappear.”

A divided society
Trevor Phillips, EHRC chairman, said that Britain in the 21st century faced the danger of society begin divided by inequality and injustice.

“This review holds up the mirror to fairness in Britain,” he said.

“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.”

Key findings of the EHRC report

Health and Wellbeing
- Life expectancy of men and women from the highest social class is seven years longer, on average, than those from lower socio-economic groups.
- Children from ethnic minorities are up to twice as likely to be involved in road accidents while walking or playing.
- In England and Wales, men and women living in the most deprived areas are twice as likely to commit suicide as those in the least deprived.

Education and Inclusion
- Girls in England across every ethnic group do better at school than boys at the age of five.
- Just 8 per cent of black students are at Russell Group universities, compared with 24 per cent of white students.
- At the age of five, 35 per cent of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved a good level of development, compared with 55 per cent of pupils not eligible.

Work and Wealth
- The mean gender pay gap for women and men working full-time was 16.4 per cent last year.
- Women aged 40 earn on average 27 per cent less than men of the same age.
- By the age of 22-24, 44 per cent of black people are not in education, employment or training, compared with 25 per cent of white people.

Safety and Security
- Two-thirds of gay, lesbian and transgender secondary school pupils say they have been victims of bullying.
- Five times more black people than white people are jailed in England and Wales on average.
- Women experience more than three-quarters of domestic violence and sexual assault, and encounter more extreme forms than men.

Autonomy and Voice
- One in eight people in England provide unpaid care to adults.
- 175,000 under-18s have responsibilities to care for someone.
- Less than a quarter of Westminster MPs and three in 10 councillors are women.