Inequality in the UK

Photo by Søren Astrup Jørgensen on Unsplash

So much for equality of opportunity in 21st century Britain. It looks as if this country is becoming more unequal, if the latest research is to be believed.

True, we have legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998; the Equality Act 2010; and EU legal principles such as (Article 157) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which embed anti-discrimination laws. Parliaments and the EU can pass all manner of laws, but this of itself does not guarantee the conditions of true equality to flourish. Equal pay laws have been in force since 1975 in the UK, but tell that to Glasgow City Council female employees who had to struggle every step of the way to win their battle for pay equality in January 2019.

Since the inception of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Scottish Governments have introduced various initiatives to tackle the scourge of child poverty. The latest attempt can be found in the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 which aims to combat some of the causes of this problem by 2030. In a recent blog (Food for thought? published on 16 April 2019) I discussed the suggestion, in a report by the Scottish Human Rights Commission, that the right to food security should be recognised as a fundamental human right. This proposal was made against a background of increased use of food banks in Scotland.

Everywhere you go organisations proclaim their commitment to equality and diversity and, if you take things at face value, you might allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that great progress is being made.

We can have a plethora of events such as Black History Month; Disability Awareness Month; World AIDS Day; International Women’s Day; and Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, but if they are to be judged in any way successful they must lead to real change.

And yet … something is clearly not working when the UK Government’s own Social Mobility Commission concludes (in its latest Report) that levels of inequality in this country remain stubbornly persistent.

Now, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has weighed in with its own take on the matter. Professor Sir Angus Deaton will chair a Review which will examine the causes of inequality in modern Britain. The Institute of Fiscal Studies, a leading UK Think Tank, has stated that rising levels of inequality and exclusion threaten the very foundations of democracy in this country.

In April 2010, Nick Clegg, then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, trumpeted his Party’s manifesto commitment which would ensure that fairness was ‘hardwired’ into British society. I wonder if, from the comfort of his executive office at Facebook HQ in Silicon Valley, Mr Clegg now sees his time as UK Deputy Prime Minister (2010-15) as a wasted opportunity?

In her column in last Saturday’s edition of The Independent, Janet Street Porter spoke of the lack of diversity at the BBC as a working class person

… who managed (against all the odds) to make a living out of working for the BBC, an organisation where (even in 2019) the over-educated and middle class dominate. We’re proof that in modern Britain, social mobility still moves at a glacial pace. …

… For all the BBC trumpets its ethnic, gay and gender-fluid presenters, one category is conspicuously absent on the radio and television – white working class people.”

This inequality can be traced from “birth to work” according to the Social Mobility Commission’s findings:

“In this our sixth State of the Nation report we lay bare the stark fact that social mobility has stagnated over the last four years at virtually all stages from birth to work. Being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged. Being born disadvantaged, however, means that you will have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that you and your children are not stuck in the same trap.

At a time when our country needs to be highly productive and nimble we impede our own progress as a nation if we do not maximise the talent of all our citizens – especially those that start the furthest behind. We fail if we do not make it possible for every individual to have choices about where they go and what they do in life.

This report shows that more needs to be done to support the most vulnerable. Our analysis finds that, too often, well intentioned policies fail to reach those who would benefit most, while cuts to other provisions disproportionately impact the most vulnerable.

Clearly a lot still has to be done to make the UK a fairer society.

A link to the Social Mobility Commission’s Report can be found below:

A link to the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ website can be found below:



Another facet of inequality in the UK was revealed by Sky News on 2 July 2019. A survey revealed that LGBT workers were more likely to be paid less compared to their straight colleagues and were still afraid of revealing their sexual orientation in the work-place:

LGBT+ workers earn less and are still afraid to come out – survey

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 13 May & 2 July 2019

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A legal blog by the author of Introductory Scots Law: Theory & Practice (3rd Edition: 2017; Hodder Gibson) Sean J. Crossan BA (Hons), LLB (Hons), MSc, TQFE I have been teaching law in Higher and Further Education for nearly 25 years. I also worked as an employment law consultant in a Glasgow law firm for over a decade. I am also a trade union representative and continue to make full use of my legal background. I am a graduate and postgraduate of the Universities of Dundee, London and Strathclyde. Please note that this Blog provides a general commentary about issues in Scots Law. It is not intended as a substitute for in-depth legal advice. If you have a specific legal problem, you should always consult a suitably qualified Scottish solicitor who will be able to provide you with the support that you require.

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