Equality and Human Rights Monitor 2023: Executive Summary

Published: 16 November 2023

Last updated: 16 November 2023

What countries does this apply to?

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales


The Equality and Human Rights Commission is Britain’s equality regulator and a UN-accredited A-status national human rights institution. This report is our comprehensive five-year review of how Britain is performing on equality and human rights.

This report looks across all areas of life since 2018, including:

  • education
  • work
  • living standards
  • health
  • justice
  • security
  • participation in society

It outlines how equality and human rights protections have developed. It also identifies where there have been improvements or deteriorations in the outcomes experienced by people with the different characteristics protected in the Equality Act 2010.

This report meets our statutory duty to report on progress on equality and human rights. Crucially, using a robust, data driven approach, it identifies the issues that governments must address to meet the challenges of the next five years.  


The period of this statutory review is dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused unprecedented economic and social disruption. Public health measures resulted in severe restriction of freedoms. Our October 2020 report on the pandemic highlighted the immediate impacts, but the long-term effects are complex and enduring. Not all changes are negative. For example, hybrid and flexible working is now the norm for many people, providing greater possibilities for employment.

However, the practical implications of the global economic shock, in addition to the war in Ukraine, have resulted in rising inflation and faltering growth. 

The broad effects of the pandemic continue to make an assessment of the socio-economic impact of Brexit challenging. However, it is clear that Britain’s departure from the European Union has implications for equality and human rights protections. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (European Commission, 2012) no longer applies to the UK, as it was not retained in law. This resulted in the loss of some rights protections, including the free-standing right to equal treatment.  

It is difficult to measure social change. However, the recent debates about identities, beliefs and freedoms indicate that social issues are causing significant disagreement with increasing implications for those involved. Black Lives Matter, trans rights and violence against women and girls have been much discussed.

Reasonable discussions have been made more difficult by how people interact with news and information:

  • younger adults in particular are more likely to get news from social media. Often the credibility and quality of this information is not easy to verify
  • online algorithms can funnel content to users that reflects their existing views and biases. This reduces exposure to a variety of viewpoints
  • print media often reflects the positions they believe their readership holds, rather than presenting a more balanced view

This divisive context can make it difficult for people to hold moderate views, change their minds or remain undecided on topical issues. Battle lines are drawn and it is difficult to engage with, or even hear from, people with different perspectives. Positions on some of these topics have become entrenched or polarised, with few areas of agreement in some cases. By missing nuance, society cannot tackle persistent challenges or reach consensus.   

It is vital that social change is understood. As such, the Equality and Human Rights Monitor plays an important role in bringing together data, facts and evidence. It uses a robust, authoritative methodology. It will help ensure debates are better informed and from a trusted source. 

What we did

We used our Measurement Framework to collect and analyse the best, most relevant evidence, and monitor progress in a consistent way. The Framework is made up of a series of ‘indicators’ that enable us to assess the elements of life that are important to everyone. These include:

  • being healthy
  • getting a good education
  • having an adequate standard of living

For each of these, we collected evidence about all the protected characteristics for which data is available. We report both on changes since the last report and on how things are now. 

We supplemented the quantitative data with a call for evidence to fill any identified gaps. Asking for high quality, peer-reviewed outputs helped us to fill those gaps.

We also held round tables and individual discussions with stakeholders to test emerging findings. 

This information was collated and quality assured. We have created a high quality, cohesive evidence base that we used to make the assessments in this report. 

What we found

The pandemic affected data availability. So data collection for some indicators was paused or stopped completely during this time, with few alternative ways to make measurements. We had to look beyond our Measurement Framework to fill the gaps that arose.

In our last report in 2018, we highlighted long-term equality trends that impacted people in Britain. These included socio-economic disadvantage concentrated in certain groups such as:

  • disabled people and households
  • ethnic minorities
  • women

But the pandemic created a ‘before and after’ in the data. This meant that we could not always assess the baseline changes in outcomes compared to 2018. This was because everything had been affected by the pandemic.

Nonetheless, when we looked at our findings in the round, we found three main themes:

  • some changes were solely due to the pandemic. For example, there was a temporary reduction in the gap in employment between Black and other ethnicities. This was mainly due to the overrepresentation of Black employees in sectors that were not furloughed or made redundant 
  • some changes would have happened anyway but were exacerbated by the pandemic. For example, life expectancy was already stagnating, but the pandemic increased the stagnation, led to excess deaths and contributed to falling life expectancy in some groups
  • some changes would have happened independently of the pandemic. For example, the increased use of artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to have an impact on outcomes relating to digital exclusion and participation

Our analysis is that the pandemic interacted with existing social trends, rather than created new ones. But its impact on observed outcomes was so significant that it did, in effect, create a new baseline to start monitoring from. 


A positive finding from our analysis was that almost all groups have experienced a significant reduction in severe material deprivation in the last ten years. This is because the cost of living has been fairly low by historical standards. The National Minimum Wage (NMW) is one factor that has had a positive impact on hourly earnings and net household incomes for lower earners. Women have experienced a particularly positive impact. Though average wages tend to increase with minimum wage increases, the uplifts in the NMW have not kept up with recent price inflation. 

Furthermore, in the last year, polls by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have reported that 9 in 10 people find their cost of living higher in 2023. This is compared with 12 months ago. At least three in ten people now cannot afford essentials, such as gas or rent, or save. If there is no reduction in inflation or growth in incomes, it is possible that severe material deprivation may increase in future years.

The gap in employment between disabled and non-disabled people has steadily decreased over time, from 36.2 percentage points in 2017/18 to 32.4 percentage points in 2021/22. The growth in employment for disabled people is greater than the growth in employment for non-disabled people. The reasons for this are unclear, and it may be that greater self-disclosure of disabilities is changing the recorded make-up of the working population. Or that, as people age (and remain in the workforce longer), they are more likely to be affected by health conditions while in work. 

Despite this progress, wage growth for disabled people is outperformed by wage growth for non-disabled people. Disabled people are also more likely to leave work, and more likely to be employed in less secure employment. However, this may also be positive for individuals who prefer flexibility.

There has been inconsistent progress for ethnic minorities. Most ethnic minority groups have seen a continuation of improvements in educational outcomes. However, this has not translated into improved employment and earnings for some groups. Black people in particular have experienced stagnating wage growth and lower employment rates than adults in other ethnic groups. 

Employment tribunals give a good overview of the concentration of workplace challenges. Eleven years of data show trends responding to the introduction of employment tribunal fees in 2013 and their removal in 2017. The fees were found to be unlawful. There was a downward trend in employment tribunals before 2013, driven by a fall in sex discrimination complaints. This fall continued after 2013. After fees were removed in 2017, the number of age and disability discrimination complaints increased significantly.

Continued challenges

Health inequalities had been increasing for some time before the pandemic. This was highlighted by the 2010 Marmot Review and the 2020 ‘Ten Years On’ refreshed analysis. The pandemic highlighted health inequalities in a way that no other event had before. This led to the creation of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities and the government’s Inclusive Britain response. However, health inequalities do not only exist between racial groups. They are also affected by:

  • age
  • sex
  • socio-economic status and geographical location
  • pre-existing conditions
  • education
  • parental characteristics

ONS’ experimental statistics on ethnic differences in life expectancy and mortality from selected causes highlight the interaction between deaths due to specific causes and ethnicity. Finding that the data indicated lower life expectancy for White and Mixed ethnicity people between 2011 and 2014. However, the results were confounded by:

  • past migration patterns
  • socio-economic composition of the groups
  • health-related behaviours
  • clinical and biological factors

The pandemic may also have influenced this finding. Further research in this area needs to present a more comprehensive understanding of the drivers of ethnic disparities in health. 

Access to, and quality of, healthcare were both impacted by the pandemic and continue to contribute to health inequalities. For example, young people now report that they are less likely to get help for mental health issues. The percentage of disabled people reporting poor mental health has increased more than that of non-disabled people. Waiting times for treatment have increased and pressure on the healthcare system is growing. This is due to high rates of staff turnover, sickness and stress in addition to budget pressures and an aging, and less healthy, population. 

The regressive trend seen in justice outcomes in 2018 has continued for many groups. Women, LGBT individuals and disabled people are more likely to report experiencing domestic or sexual abuse. However, they are  less likely to get a positive outcome from reporting it. Disabled women are twice as likely as non-disabled women to report being raped. 

There have been welcome long-term decreases in the prevalence of hate crime for many protected characteristics. But hate crime motivated by race stopped reducing and hate crime motivated by religion has remained constant. There has however been a drastic decrease in prosecutions of these crimes by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The pandemic brought into focus how the internet is changing the way we interact with services. Though most people can access the internet, 20% of disabled people and older people do not regularly. Digital exclusion extends also to those in rural areas and in severe material deprivation. These groups risk being excluded from essential services which are increasingly being delivered digitally by default.

Emerging issues

Artificial intelligence

In our 2018 report, we identified risks to particular groups, such as disabled people and older people, from the increasing use of digital services, including in banking and healthcare. That trend has continued. In addition, more services are now using AI in their delivery. This is evident in the prevalence of chat bots in:

  • customer service functions
  • approving access to financial services, like mortgages and insurance
  • healthcare 

Practical applications of AI rely wholly on the data they can access. If data quality is poor, non-representative or missing altogether, the models embedded in AI are not able to accommodate diversity. Leading to potential discrimination. Human intervention is needed to compensate for this. However, this relies on them having an awareness of diverse specific populations and their needs, which is by no means certain.  

AI is an example of technological change that may have unequal impacts across protected characteristics and challenge human rights. Skills-biased technological changes, of which the use of AI could be an example, are widely recognised as drivers of income inequality at national levels. These changes tend to affect some groups more than others, including women, ethnic minorities, lower socio-economic groups and disabled people. Wherever there are disparities in educational outcomes and sectoral employment, there is a risk that an increased use of AI and automation may exacerbate the inequalities in those outcomes. This is unless policies are designed to compensate for changing labour market structures.

Changing social attitudes

Since 2018, there continues to be evidence of a further liberalisation of views towards sexual orientation, divorce, abortion and euthanasia. The World Values Survey highlights greater levels of acceptance on these issues in the UK than in previous years. Though this varies between different groups. For example, women, Labour voters and younger age groups are more likely to be accepting of homosexuality than men, Conservative voters and older age groups.

Change within groups is slow. Where there is rapid social change, it tends to be due to the changing age profile of the population. Age also affects how people take part in social debate. The views of older people and other digitally excluded groups may not liberalise to the same extent or as fast as among other groups. This could result in their further marginalisation.

The trajectories of these attitudes will continue to interact with significant changes to public discussion and spaces for that discussion. Structural shifts towards more digital, mobile, and platform-dominated media environments are accelerating. Participation in online news continues to fall and news brands become ever less influential. More broadly, several indices of freedom have downgraded the UK in recent years, noting restrictions on civic freedom, including the rights to freedom of assembly and access to justice.

Community resilience

Since our 2018 report, there has been significant policy attention on communities that have been ‘left behind’ and are in need of ‘levelling up’. There is no single definition of these communities. They have variously been identified as including geographic areas with an elevated level of deprivation and / or low social capital. The majority of ‘left behind areas’ are in:

  • the Midlands
  • the North of England
  • the West of Scotland
  • the South of Wales
  • post-industrial towns on the periphery of large urban areas
  • coastal towns are also included

Social capital is strongly associated with the concept of community resilience. One recurring theme of the pandemic was that groups and communities with low resilience experienced more disruption and poorer outcomes. Social capital is determined by factors such as:

  • personal relationships
  • social network support
  • civic engagement, and
  • trust and cooperative norms  

As such it is clear that economic shocks will hit hardest where there is low social capital, not just because of the vulnerability of the communities but also their limitations in organising recovery. These economic shocks  include:

  • the pandemic
  • Brexit
  • the financial crisis of 2008

There is significant overlap between social capital and economic conditions based on socio-economic status, education, employment and health. Building resilience to shocks is complex. There is no single approach to creating resilient communities. It must be based on the needs, assets and infrastructure in each community, as well as the wider socio-economic context.

Some communities may have high engagement, but little infrastructure and / or low economic agency (through education and employment). So building resilience has to address the wider conditions before any system can be designed or implemented. Attention must also be given to the demographic make-up of each community. As highlighted in the pandemic, communities are more likely to respond to advice and guidance from peers and other trusted sources. This means consideration of protected characteristics is vital when planning for resilience and response to shocks. 

The government, through its Levelling Up White Paper of February 2022, and Parliament, through its All-Party Parliamentary Group for Left Behind Neighbourhoods, are working to identify and address needs in these communities. This is through its Levelling Up White Paper of February 2022, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Left Behind Neighbourhoods, respectively. Following the City Region Deals programmes, there are now ten Combined Authorities in England. They are in receipt of £400 million to £1 billion of investment to improve:

  • transport
  • housing
  • skills
  • local growth
  • local placemaking

This has the potential to increase social capital and improve local economic conditions. Therefore improving resilience so that the negative impacts of shocks can be at least partially mitigated.

The continued devolution of powers within nations appears likely. This may indirectly impact on equality and rights. We will continue to review the impact of such policies on different protected characteristic groups. 

Wider determinants of health

Over the past two decades, evidence about the role of social determinants of health has increased. It is now widely accepted that physical and mental health outcomes are partly determined by a lifetime of interactions between a person’s baseline level of health and their physical, social and economic environment. This can begin before conception. Maternal health and health during pregnancy have an impact on a child’s health, from birthweight through to cancer risk. 

Early years also have a significant impact on adult health. Children with adverse experiences, such as violence and abuse, severe parental mental illness or substance abuse, are significantly more likely to have poor mental and physical health later in life. They are also more likely to be at increased risk of homelessness, offending behaviour and poverty. As our understanding of the wider determinants of health increases, so must our understanding of how those factors interact with equality and human rights. 

Prevention of poor health can be more significant than treatment. Estimates are mixed, but studies report that between 15% and 43% of health outcomes are determined by health care itself. The remaining balance is determined by a mix of genetics, health behaviours and socio-economic factors. Many of these factors are either outside an individual’s control or very hard to change. 

The health indicators in our Measurement Framework mainly cover specific health outcomes. However, many of the other indicators, such as education or employment, also impact health. There is a general shortage of longitudinal data that follows people throughout their lives. This would allow an analysis of the contributions of each individual determinant.

In recent years, the use of links between data sets and alternative data sources has increased. This allows a potentially better understanding of how people’s health outcomes relate to their life experiences. Both at an individual as well as at the population level.

As this body of evidence grows, we hope to be able to understand several important issues. For example, it may become clearer how the determinants vary by protected characteristics. It may also become easier to measure how health outcomes interact with:

  • the enjoyment of human rights throughout the life course
  • phenomena like climate change
  • the changing nature of work  

What needs to happen now

In each of the report chapters, we provide recommendations for the government that will address the issues we have identified. The recommendations fit into several overarching themes.

Data and evidence

One important theme is the need for high quality, representative data and evidence. For many protected characteristics, sufficient data does not exist. Trans people are underrepresented in almost all the indicators we use, making it hard to assess the overall quality of life for this group. There is an urgent need for data regulators to promote the collection of comprehensive, coherent data on trans people. Policy can then be designed to address the pressing issues faced by this group. 

There is also a lack of complete data about ethnic minorities. Especially relating to mental and physical health, maternity, educational outcomes and bullying in schools. Even where race is recorded in such data, the quality can be inconsistent. 

Understanding and addressing the needs of diverse populations

Across all protected characteristics, our report frequently recommends the need for the government and service providers to understand the needs of diverse populations and design targeted policies to address their needs. These groups might include, for example, older people in prisons or pregnant Black women. Our report also recommends that policies are regularly monitored and reviewed. Evaluation is an important and necessary part of the normal policy cycle. In evaluating actions taken, the government should routinely consider their impact on different population segments. This is a legal requirement under the Public Sector Equality Duty of the Equality Act 2010. 

Earnings and employment gaps are evident for several protected characteristic groups. Our report recommends that the disability pay and employment gaps are monitored to understand their causes and determine appropriate policies to address those gaps. Similarly, the pay and employment gaps for specific ethnic groups should be monitored. This would include, for example, the earnings gap between Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi adults and White adults, and the employment gap between Black adults and other ethnic groups.

Disparities in living standards and poverty

Disparities in living standards and poverty is the final overarching theme of the recommendations in our report. Our analyses have highlighted the effects of social disadvantage, which were also observed in our 2018 report.

Understanding disparities is important in designing approaches to their reduction. We have made recommendations for some specific disparities, for example child poverty and poverty faced by disabled people. In general, governments should take steps to understand and address the causes of poverty and declining living standards. This is particularly pertinent in light of recent high levels of inflation. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission will continue to monitor these and other data relating to equality and human rights. We will produce regular reports and other information to enable the UK government, and the governments of Scotland and Wales, to understand and address areas of need across all protected characteristic groups.

Key findings

Our main report contains a comprehensive analysis of each indicator from our Measurement Framework. This is stratified by protected characteristic and topic. Alongside this Executive Summary, you will find factsheets for each topic area. Below you will find the most significant findings for each protected characteristic.


Policy and legal developments

The pandemic had a negative effect on children. The government is developing strategies to address this in the areas of education and the job market. The pandemic also impacted older people with the:

  • problematic use of ‘Do not resuscitate’ notices early in the pandemic
  • removal of people from hospitals to care homes
  • restrictions on care home visits

There have also been several legal cases that have helped to clarify how age discrimination can occur in in the workplace.


Children and young people

Child poverty among children aged five and over has risen in the past decade in Britain. The number of children affected by the two-child limit on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit is growing each year.

Children and young people’s mental health in England has been particularly affected by the pandemic. Those with long-term mental health conditions are now less likely to say they feel supported to deal with their condition than before the pandemic.

School absenteeism was a serious issue during the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of children were missing from lessons for most of the time, and this is still a greater issue than it was.

Young adults

The poverty gap between young and older adults has narrowed. However, people aged 16-24 remain one of the groups more likely to be in poverty.

Young adults remain the lowest paid and most likely to be in a low-paid occupation (LPO). But the proportion of young adults in an LPO has fallen and median hourly earnings for this group have increased.

Older people

The older pre-retirement age group (55–64) in Britain were becoming increasingly active in the labour market before the pandemic. But older workers’ economic activity has fallen since.

Over a quarter of adults aged 75 and above in the UK do not have access to the internet in their home. More than half of those aged 65 and over are defined as ‘narrow’ users of the internet. They are potentially at risk of digital exclusion.

The proportion of older people in prisons in Scotland has risen. There are concerns about whether the prison systems in England and Wales and Scotland meet older prisoners’ needs.


Policy and legal developments

Improving services and addressing stigma associated with mental health has been a focus of policy development in the period. A review and new legislation have amended the core legal framework of the Mental Health Act.  

Improving the employment rates of disabled people was also a priority for the government. There was a comprehensive review of special educational needs and disabled provision in education. The ‘Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan’ committed to significant improvements.

The first National Disability Strategy since 2011 was developed. However, its implementation was stalled due to legal action on the degree of consultation undertaken.  


Disability discrimination claims at employment tribunals are one of the most common forms of tribunal discrimination claim. However, disability discrimination claims are more commonly withdrawn or settled through Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service).

Disabled people in England and Wales are more likely to have experienced domestic abuse (11.5% in 2019/20) compared with non-disabled people (4.5%). Disabled women (1.9%) are more likely to have experienced rape in the past year than non-disabled women (0.8%).

The number of disability hate crime incidents fell by 38% between 2008–10 and 2018–2020 in England and Wales. But reporting of hate crime to the police continues to rise.

Disabled people in England have a lower level of trust and sense of belonging in their local neighbourhood than non-disabled people. This has worsened since our last review in 2018.

Poverty levels in Britain are still higher for disabled people and they are more affected by the rising cost of living.

The employment gap between disabled people and non-disabled people has narrowed. However, the earnings gap has increased. The reasons for this are unclear.

Gender reassignment

Policy and legal developments

There has been significant disagreement and public debate about how to protect trans people from gender reassignment discrimination without impinging on the sex-based rights of women.

There was reconsideration of gender recognition laws. A consultation in the UK and new legislation passed in the Scottish Parliament to reduce the requirements for gaining legal gender recognition. This was subsequently prevented from gaining royal assent by the UK government. They expressed concerns over its interaction with reserved legislation in the Equality Act 2010.  

Several legal cases impacted on the protected characteristics of gender reassignment by seeking to clarify the legal definition of sex. These included cases on collecting data in the census. 

The interim report of Dr Hilary Cass’s Review of Gender Identity Services for children and young people in England recommended a move away from a single provider to a regional network.

In response to a request from the Minister for Women and Equalities, the Equality and Human Rights Commission recommended in April 2023 that the government consider whether a biological definition of sex in the Equality Act 2010 would improve legal clarity.


Census data on gender identity is available for the first time. In 2021, around 262,000 people in England and Wales said that their gender identity is different from their sex registered at birth. Data from Scotland’s 2022 census is forthcoming.

There is some evidence that trans and non-binary people have poorer physical and mental health and report poorer experiences when accessing healthcare than others.

Demand for gender identity services has increased for both adults and children across Britain. This has resulted in very long waiting times for services.

Emerging research on sexual and reproductive healthcare has found that trans individuals are less likely than non-trans individuals to access sexual health services or maternity services.


Policy and legal developments

There has been a reinvigorated debate on issues of race, ethnicity and racial discrimination. This is motivated in part by the disparity in mortality during the pandemic and the rejuvenation of the Black Lives Matter protests. In response, the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities was commissioned by the UK government to produce recommendations on how to address racial disparities.

Earlier in the period, the Windrush scandal highlighted the different ways that racial groups experienced immigration policies in the UK. We found that the Home Office had not complied with the Public Sector Equality Duty in implementing its ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies.  

We investigated and found that the Labour Party had failed to address unlawful antisemitism. We agreed an action plan of improvements with the party.


The Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani populations had the highest risk of mortality in the pandemic in England. ONS analysis found this was mostly explained by:

  • location
  • disadvantage
  • occupation
  • living arrangements
  • pre-existing health conditions
  • vaccination coverage

Experimental analysis identified that before the pandemic all ethnic minority groups (apart from mixed) had longer life expectancies than the White British population.

Most ethnic groups in England are experiencing improving outcomes and narrowing gaps in education and work. But Black adults have seen earnings stagnate and unemployment remain relatively high.

The pay gap for Bangladeshi and Pakistani workers has narrowed significantly and Bangladeshi people have also experienced a sharp fall in the poverty rate. However, both Bangladeshi and Pakistani people have a 40%-plus poverty rate, the worst rate of all ethnic minority groups.

There is limited data on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. What is available shows that they have the poorest educational and work outcomes and are among the most excluded.


Policy and legal developments

There have been several legal cases that have defined the scope of protected belief and the limits of protection from discrimination on the basis of belief. This has included protection for lack of belief in gender fluidity, and the belief in an independent Scotland.

However, the right to freedom of religion under the European Convention of Human Rights was found not to have been contravened:

  • by not allowing parents to withdraw children from mandatory religion, values and ethics and relationships and sexual education in Wales
  • or by the establishment of ‘safe access zones’ around abortion clinics in Northern Ireland

We conducted an investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party. The Conservative party commissioned the Singh Investigation into discrimination based on protected characteristics. This included religion or belief, specifically Islam.


Outcomes for Muslims in Britain have improved in:

  • higher education attainment
  • employment
  • reduced economic inactivity
  • median hourly income

However, these are still poorer outcomes than for most other religious groups. Adult and child poverty and severe material deprivation remain high among Muslims.

In Britain, educational and employment outcomes for Hindus have improved. They are the most likely group to have a degree-level qualification and, along with Jewish people, to have higher hourly earnings. 

Overall prevalence of religious hate crime in England and Wales has not changed, while other types of hate crime have fallen long-term. Sudden increases in racial or religiously motivated offences have been seen around major political or terrorist trigger events, including:

  • the EU referendum
  • July 2017 terrorist attacks
  • the Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests in summer 2020

There has been significant emerging case law clarifying the scope of protections for beliefs and expression of beliefs, and the extent to which provision of services can and cannot be restricted on the basis of religion and belief.

Sex (including pregnancy and maternity and marriage and civil partnership)

Policy and legal developments

There has been much heated debate over the legal definition of the protected characteristic of sex. And also how it applies to people who live and present in a gender different from their sex registered at birth. Cases were brought:

  • challenging the definition of sex used in the census of England and Wales and of Scotland
  • regarding the definition of the term ‘woman’ used in legalisation aimed at improving gender balance on public boards

After many high-profile cases, there was significant effort to develop policy, strategies and new offences to address violence against women and girls.


Girls continue to outperform boys in early years, primary and secondary education across Britain.

In Britain the employment gap between men and women has narrowed due to improvements in educational attainment.

The pay gap between men and women (known as the gender pay gap) has narrowed slightly, but with little change for more educated women. Child rearing is key cause of the gender pay gap.

Women in Britain now have higher rates of poverty than men and the proportion of households headed by women that are overcrowded has grown.

Socio-economic inequalities in life expectancy in the UK continue to be wider for men than women. However, such inequalities are widening faster for women.

Men are far more likely than women to be in prison or to die by suicide. The male suicide rate has increased in England and Scotland.

There has been a sharp drop in charges for rape offences in England and Wales, with more women withdrawing their case.

More men than women voted in the 2019 general election, a trend not seen in the previous three elections. At the same time, women in England have become more engaged in political activities than men.

Sexual orientation

Policy and legal developments

Early in the period under review, the UK government produced an action plan targeted at addressing issues and disparities in health, justice and employment among lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Some of these have been implemented, and there is planned legislation to ban conversion practices.

The interaction of protections from sexual orientation discrimination with religion and belief discrimination was tested in several cases, clarifying what constitutes discrimination because of sexual orientation. 


Census data on sexual orientation is available for the first time. In 2021, around 1.5 million people in England and Wales identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or another (non-heterosexual) sexual orientation. Data from Scotland’s 2022 Census is forthcoming.

Bisexual individuals tend to be younger than gay and lesbian individuals. They have poorer outcomes and can face specific forms of discrimination. Bisexual people are more likely to:

  • be in low-paid employment
  • living in poverty and poor conditions
  • to have worse health

Gay and lesbian adults have consistently had higher employment rates and average wages, and are more likely to be in high-paid occupations than heterosexual adults. However, wage and occupation gaps have been narrowing over time.

Despite strong labour market performance, lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience poorer outcomes in other areas than heterosexual people. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people, especially women and bisexual adults, experience worse physical and mental health. They are also more likely to have experienced rape or domestic abuse in the past year, and to live in poor conditions or have difficulty finding safe and secure housing.

Page updates

Related pages on this site