The first in a series of reports laid before Parliament every three years, 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 wellbeing; education and inclusion; work and wealth; safety and security; and autonomy and voice.
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.
Evidence suggests 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.
Opposition to working for an ethnic minority boss or inter-ethnic marriages has dropped; and stereotypical views about the roles that men and women should play in family and society have become less prevalent. And 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.
But the review also highlights areas of anxiety. There is evidence 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, chairman 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, while 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 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
This article was first published on hrmagazine.co.uk