How fair is Britain? Not very

The Equality and Human Rights Commission says women and (some) ethnic minorities are still getting a raw deal.

by Dave Waller
Last Updated: 04 Jan 2011
The commission has just published its first three-year review, How Fair is Britain – revealing a country that has a long way to go before employment opportunities become anything like equal.

And it’s not a simple case of triumph for the white male. For starters the native working-class is struggling to compete with second-generation Chinese and Indian immigrants. Perhaps it’s down to their more driven, entrepreneurial backgrounds, but Indian and Chinese men are nearly twice as likely to occupy higher-skilled, professional roles than their white counterparts (14% of white men have one, compared with 27% of Chinese and 25% of Indian men). If these numbers are anything to go by, it's no wonder the Chinese and Indian economies are growing so much faster than ours.

Elsewhere the report did little to dispel employment stereotypes: it found that a quarter of Pakistani men drive taxis, 17% of Chinese men are chefs, and nearly 10% of African men are security guards (although no word on the exact proportion of working-class white men who drive a white van and wolf-whistle at female passers-by). And there were other depressing if familiar stories of significant ethnic ‘segregation’ in the workplace: most strikingly, more than half of Muslim men and three quarters of Muslim women are unemployed.

As well as the obvious cost to the people themselves, the report estimates that under-employment among ethnic minorities costs the economy £8.6bn a year in benefits and lost tax revenue - hardly a good stat for a Government currently trying desperately to spend less cash. It might also suggest that some kind of entrenched discrimination in the recruitment process is keeping certain minorities out of jobs.

To compound matters, the report contained some equally discouraging news on the gender pay gap, where the EHRC found that the gains of the past 30 years seem to have stalled altogether: full-time women workers earn 16.4% less than men, rising to a staggering 27% less for women over 40. Meanwhile women with no qualifications face a 58% loss in earnings over their lifetime if they have children.

Today's report wasn't all bad news, and we shouldn't convince ourselves that no progress is being made. The EHRC said Britain was a 'largely tolerant and open-minded society', which has become progressively more liberal in recent decades (particularly with respect to homosexuality). But it's also clear that we have a long way to go: equality of opportunity, in the workplace and elsewhere, remains some way off.

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