Inequality and disadvantage risks becoming entrenched for generations, warns Britain's equality body
As we approach Brexit, the UK Government should make a very clear statement that it will continue to safeguard our rights and quickly introduce legislation to plug the gaps left by the decision to remove the protections offered by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, says David Isaac, EHRC Chair.
As the country’s equality and human rights body we are uniquely placed to monitor progress being made towards a fair and equal society. This is what our flagship report ‘Is Britain Fairer? 2018’, provides. It is our state-of-the-nation report covering progress in relation to outcomes in education, health, living standards, justice and security, work and participation in politics and public life. The evidence contained here should help set the agenda for the Britain of the future.
We now have almost 10 years of data to look back on and it’s clear that as a nation we face a defining moment: across many areas of life there are still too many who are losing out and who feel forgotten or left behind. Unless we take action, the disadvantages that many people face risk becoming entrenched for generations to come.
It is important to note that there have been improvements to celebrate. Westminster and devolved governments have pursued policies to improve attendance at university and attainment at school, and more children are meeting the required standards at school.
There are more women in higher pay occupations and on company boards, and the gender pay gap has decreased. The referendums and elections since 2015 have meant more people took part in political activities, and we have seen an increase in the diversity of Parliament.
Yet we cannot ignore the evidence showing where things have gone backwards. Changes to the welfare system since 2010 have made life harder for those in poverty, and this disproportionately affects a large number of disabled people, women, and people from ethnic minorities.
Since our last review in 2015, access to justice has deteriorated influenced by cuts to legal aid and the disastrous impact of employment tribunal fees on people’s ability to take on employers who have done them wrong.
Spikes in hate crime and worrying levels of sexual violence and domestic abuse also give cause for concern in relation to the safety of our citizens in their personal lives and on the streets.
The Government has said that it wishes to tackle the injustices in our society. It is too easy for reports like ours to just identify problems. It is our responsibility to be part of the solution so we are making a series of recommendations based on our findings. We believe that some of these are relatively straightforward.
For instance, since poverty is such an important contributor for many of the inequalities people experience, the UK and Welsh Governments should follow Scotland’s lead and introduce the socio-economic duty in the Equality Act to ensure public bodies work together to reduce this major area of disadvantage.
As we approach Brexit, the UK Government should make a very clear statement that it will continue to safeguard our rights and quickly introduce legislation to plug the gaps left by the decision to remove the protections offered by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Our review also provides an important baseline from which we can measure the impact of Brexit on equality and human rights. The questions posed by ‘Is Britain Fairer ?’ are based on deep-rooted British values of open-mindedness, fairness, and respect for people’s dignity. The Brexit conversation is a major opportunity to discuss the type of country we all want Britain to be.
We are committed to standing up for the values that we believe define our country: justice, freedom and compassion. We have a vital part to play in making Britain fairer – and we are asking everyone who cares about the future of our nation to work with us to act on our recommendations to improve outcomes.
In our changing world, society will thrive if everyone has a fair chance in life.