Monday, October 11, 2010

Unequal Britain

Shocking differences within society are revealed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s first ever report into fairness in Britain. And the future looks serious, with the report warning that “the current economic and social crises threaten to widen some equality gaps”.

How Fair is Britain? concludes that while “Britain is a more diverse society than it was a generation ago”, groups such as gypsies and migrants still experience serious prejudice and hostility, not to mention inequality.

Overall, life expectancy has nearly doubled, on average, since 1900. But within this overall improvement, just as on many other measures of quality of life, there are vast differences, depending above all on social class, as well as ethnic origin, gender and location:

*One in five people live in a household with less than 60% of average income
*The wealthiest men and women can expect to live up to seven years longer than the poorest. *Black African women who are asylum seekers are thought to die seven times earlier than White women
* On average women earned 16% less than men, widening to 27% for women aged 40
* Life expectancy in Scotland is around three years lower than in England. More people die early in Scotland than in other Western European country
* Black Caribbean and Pakistani babies are twice as likely to die in their first year than Bangladeshi or White British babies
* Nearly three-quarters of Bangladeshi children and half of Black African children in Britain grow up in poverty
* A quarter of women in their 50s are carers
* Black people and infants under one year are more likely than others to be victims of homicide
* Ethnic minorities were victims of around a quarter of homicides recorded in England and Wales between 2007-10
* One in four adults in Wales lack basic literacy skills, in contrast to one in six in England.

Attacks on vulnerable people and minorities particularly affect children and young people. Two-thirds of lesbian, gay and transgender school children have experienced serious bullying and even death threats. Equally ugly is the finding that over a quarter of all reported rapes have been against children under 16, boys in particular.

There are some positive developments for those who believe in tolerance and diversity. Almost one out of every 10 British children now grows up in a mixed race household. Gaps in performance by some ethnic minority children have decreased.

And attitudes to homosexuality at the level of civil partnership rights, for example, have improved. But for virtually each of these improvements, serious problems of inequality and discrimination persist as deep scars in society.

For some, there are still, “gateways to opportunity which appear permanently closed, no matter how hard they try; while others seem to have been issued with an ‘access all areas’ pass at birth,” EHRC chair Trevor Phillips notes.

There are many cultural differences as well as accidents of birth which affect the life chances of an individual in our society. But the bottom line and the common denominator for all the inequalities identified in this report is wealth – in other words, economic class.

The poorest 10 per cent of people possess average wealth one hundredth the average wealth of the richest 10%. Put another way, the total net household wealth of the top 10% is £853,000 – almost 100 times higher than the net wealth of the poorest 10%, which is £8,800 or below.

In a society where the gap between the rich and the poor has widened enormously, there can be no surprise that fear, hatred and discrimination persist. A transfer of economic and political power to the majority in society is the urgent precondition for solving inequality.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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