Two people walking on a street Two people walking on a street

Context of 'How Fair is Britain?' review


On many objective measures, Britain is a far more diverse society than it was a generation ago. Nearly 1 in 10 British children is growing up in a Mixed Race household. Society’s age structure is changing, with a growing proportion of the population aged over 50. Meanwhile, some minority groups who were once more or less invisible – for example, transgender people – have become more confident about expressing their identity in the public sphere.

At the same time as society has grown more diverse in objective terms, subjective attitudes have begun to change. In many ways, Britons are becoming more tolerant of difference and more welcoming of diversity.

The change in attitudes towards lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people is emblematic. A gap of less than 20 years separates the debate about Section 28, a piece of law which stigmatised same-sex relationships, and civil partnerships, a piece of law which gave those relationships legal recognition. There have also been changes in attitudes about race – people are increasingly at ease with the idea of working with and for people of a different ethnic background to their own. Some gender stereotypes, such as the idea that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’, have begun to soften.

Britain is a country increasingly at ease with its diversity, proud of its heritage of ‘fair play’, and supportive of the ideals of equality and human rights.

Alongside attitudinal change, the fortunes of some groups have improved markedly with social, economic and technological developments so that there has been substantive change in what happens in people’s lives.

Some forms of discrimination have diminished, and some of the disparities in achievements between different groups have narrowed:

Black Caribbean and Bangladeshi pupils have begun to catch up with the average performance at GCSE.
The gender pay gap has narrowed considerably since the Equal Pay Act 1970 came into force in 1975.
The criminal justice system now recognises different forms of hate crime and has begun to provide more appropriate support to people who experience it.
In simple terms, Britain has become a fairer place.

However, the evidence shows clearly that whatever progress has been made for some groups in some places, the outcomes for many people are not shifting as far or as fast as they should.

Particular groups, including Gypsies and Travellers and some types of migrants, are still likely to encounter negative attitudes. Although mainstream attitudes towards other groups may have improved, many people experience instances of prejudice. And some groups of people are on average much more likely than others to fare badly in education, in work, and in public life. In other words, there is a gap between what we think society should be, and what it actually is; between ideal and reality, between our aspirations and our attainments.

To make matters worse, the current economic and social crises threaten to widen some equality gaps that might have closed in better times. And finally, without corrective action longer term trends, such as technological and demographic changes are likely to entrench new forms of inequality.

This Review sets out not only to show where society has made progress, but also to show where the gaps between different groups are at their largest, and to make recommendations about where society should concentrate its efforts.

Many people consider tackling the issues of equality and fairness to be the province of anti-discrimination law, of advocacy groups, or of government, to be addressed by discrete, often marginal programmes of activity directed at particular groups. But the greatest impacts on the opportunities open to individuals are made by everyday decisions in every part of society, most of which apply equally to everyone.

A decision to invest in a new business or to change a public service is likely to affect different groups in different ways – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. It is the essence of fair decision-making that both those who make the decisions and those affected should know clearly what the consequences of any particular decision will be. That is why the availability of data is so important.

In short, by providing this data and identifying the most significant challenges, the Review forms what could be described as  an agenda for fairness. At a moment of significant economic, social and institutional reform, it provides a vital benchmark for decision-makers to judge whether their choices will open or close significant equality gaps. And, it will allow them to review progress in making Britain a fairer nation for all.

Last updated: 25 May 2016