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Is inequality still an issue in modern Britain?
This essay will discuss whether inequality is still an issue in modern Britain. Inequality is defined by the Collins English Dictionary as ’the difference in social status, wealth, or opportunity between people or groups’. This essay will focus on the difference in social status between genders, sexualities, and race and ethnicities within British society. By comparing their social status in history with their status in the 21st century to determine whether inequality continues to be an issue in modern Britain. The sociological imagination is a way of thinking which looks at individual or personal actions/troubles and looking at how they relate to the wider world. This essay will use the sociological imagination to show how the characteristics and struggles of an individual can be indicative of inequality in wider society.
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Montgomery (2006) identified that in the 1780s women couldn’t vote, make a contract, sue someone or be be sued, and all their earnings belonged to their husband. Since then many legislations have been enacted to make the place of women in society more equal. Fawcett Society (2016) identified several key legislations and acts in terms of work, politics, family and the home, violence against women, and reproductive and sexual health. Some key examples of these are the 1918 Representation of the People Act, that gave women over 30 who owned property the right to vote, the 1967 Abortion Act, gives women in the UK the right to abortions on medical grounds, the 1969 Divorce Reform Act, which allowed women to file for divorce without the notion of ‘proof’, and the 1970 Equal Pay Act, which required women to be paid the same as men for the same jobs (Montgomery, 2006. Fawcett Society,2016).
According to a report by the World Economic Forum (2017, Cited in Molloy, 2018) it may be an estimated 100 years until women and men are truly equal in society.
Macfarlane and Dorkenoo (2015) estimated that 137,000 women and girls in the UK are affected by female genital mutilation (FGM). This is a surgical process which involves total or partial removal of the female genitalia for non-medical reasons (Crown Prosecution Service, 2018). This practice is often carried out by non-medical professionals without anesthesia and poses serious health risks. Some of the physical risks can be shock, haemorrhage, or infection and psychological risks can be post-traumatic stress, and depression. In some cultures it is viewed as a coming of age ritual, religious requirement, to reduce sexual desire in order to conform to social norms, or to force virginity . The FGM Act 2003 makes it a criminal act FGM to be performed on any UK national or resident, either in the UK or overseas (Macfarlane and Dorkenoo, 2015). This shows inequality in the UK as despite there being laws against this there is still evidence in these statistics that crimes are being committed distinctly against women.
Forced Marriage in the UK also illustrates gender inequality as 80% of the victims are females. Last year in the UK nearly 1,200 forced marriages were flagged to the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU). A forced marriage is ‘one in which one or both spouses do not consent to the union , and violence, threats or any form of coercion are involved’ (Khomami et al, 2018). Rubie Marie was a 15 year old girl who was placed in a forced marriage. In an interview with BBC News she outlined how she was forced into marriage and raped until she fell pregnant in order to obtain a visa for her husband. She was disowned by her family for fleeing once her child was born (BBC News, 2018a). This highlights how gender can be used and mistreated in Britain, thus creating inequality, as Rubie’s gender was used for the gain of her husband and her family in order for him to obtain a visa.
However, it is not just women who are subject to gender inequality in modern Britain. Men can be subject to inequality in a variety of ways. This paragraph will explore two specific examples of this; child custody rights, and domestic violence. In terms of child custody, 96% of appeals launched for ‘access to children’ in court are launched by men. In ¼ of these cases men will be given little to no access to their children (Poole, 2015). Furthermore, Duncan Fisher (quoted in Poole, 2015) identified that to be legally regarded as the father of their child the mother must authorise this, either by being married to the mother or by being written on the birth certificate by the mother. This shows inequality as men have less access to their children than women. In terms of domestic violence, ⅓ of domestic abuse victims are men but only 0.8% of beds in refuge centres are for men (BBC News, 2018b).
Giddens and Sutton (2017) define race as
‘a set of social relationships which allow individuals and groups to be located, … on the basis of biologically ground features’
and ethnicity as
‘A form of social identity related to ‘descent and cultural differences’ which become effective or active in social contexts’.
They also identify that these concepts are closely related. Racism is the prejudice or discrimination against groups or individuals based on their race. Barker (1981, Cited in Giddens and Sutton, 2017) identified that racism in modern society has become ‘new racism’ which uses cultural differences, or ethnicity, to discriminate against certain groups.
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Racial diversity in Britain began with the first great migrations from India and Africa which were closely linked to colonial conquest and racial slavery. Europeans saw the people of the countries they colonised as subordinate to them and brought many back to Britain as slaves. This caused a growing black population, particularly in port cities, as this was where the slaves filled labour shortages (Mason, 1995). The Slavery Abolition Act 1833 saw an end to this. SInce then optional migration has continually occurred. In the 1950s and early 60s Commonwealth migrants from India, Pakistan, parts of Africa, and the Far East were encouraged by the government to settle in Britain to fill post-war labour shortages, this was allowed freely by the British Nationality Act 1948 (Mason, 1995). This large influx of immigrants saw an increase in white hostility, resulting in the Notting Hill riots in 1958, in which young white males launched an attack on Caribbean immigrants resulting in 108 arrests and multiple injuries but no fatalities. As Commonwealth migrants filled the least desirable jobs and social housing the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962 begins to control entry into Britain due to a housing shortage. Mason (1995) claims that since then all measures used to control immigration have had the underlying purpose of reducing migration of blacks and Asians whilsts allowing whites from old Commonwealth countries to enter more freely due to continuing and underlying racial tensions within Britain.
In terms of crime and criminality, disparities can be seen between ethnicities through their representation in the criminal justice system (CJS). A report from the Ministry of Justice and the Office for National Statistics (2017) can be used to create an overview of this. Over the past year there was an 18% rise in racially motivated aggravated offences compared to the previous year and a 62% increase in the past 5 years with approximately 49,000 offences taking place. Furthermore, Blacks are 4 times more likely to be a victim of homicide than whites. This highlights the existence of inequality as it shows both how those of minority ethnic groups have a higher chance of being victims of certain crimes or of being victimised due to their race or ethnicity. Similarly the statistics on minority ethnic groups as perpetrators of crimes, rather than as victims, also portray inequality. Statistics suggest that Blacks are more than three times as likely to be arrested and that those of Mixed ethnicity are more than twice as likely to be arrested than Whites. Additionally Blacks are eight times more likely to be subject to stop and search by police than Whites. This may portray the existence of institutional racism within British police forces.
Representation of people from Black and minority ethnic (BME) groups within different social aspects, such as employment, homelessness and education, may also help create a picture of racial inequality in society. Government statistics outline that of the population in England and Wales an estimated 86% of people are white, and that 14% are from BME groups. Using these statistics we can compare how evenly BME are represented within areas of society. Within the NHS BME workers account for 19.8% of those employed by the service, within the police service 6.6% of workers are from BME groups, and within education 13.6% of teachers are from BME groups. This shows that certain aspects of public sector employment may be more equal that others such as education which most closely matches the general population, whereas others may be over representative or under representative. Statistics on homelessness shows that 31% of families that go homeless are BME families, this shows that there may be underlying inequalities as this is a much higher proportion than in the general population. Furthermore, of those whose ethnicity is known, BME students only make up 7.4% of university students. This could suggest that there are inequalities in the education system which cause BME students to be less likely to reach higher education. All of these statistical differences suggest that whilst inequalities in society may not be obvious within society there may still be underlying inequalities that cause certain ethnicities to become over or under represented within certain areas of society.
In recent years there have been steps taken to attempt to reduce racism in sport however, these have not always been successful. An article in the Mirror (2018) reported that in December 2018 a man was charged for throwing a banana skin at a black player during a Tottenham v Arsenal match. This is an incident that has occurred previously with a banana skin being thrown at John Barnes during a Liverpool match in 1988. Furthermore, BBC News (2019) reported that Millwall fans were heard making anti-Pakistani chants in a match against Everton. Kick it Out, an organisation promoting equality in football, reported that during the 2017/18 football season 53% of reports of discrimination were relating to race, which is up 22% from the previous year. This suggests that not only is racial inequality prevalent in sport but it is on the rise.
The term sexuality refers to an individual’s sexual or romantic orientation. The most commonly occuring sexuality is heterosexuality, the attraction to people of the opposite gender, as opposed to homosexuality, the attraction to people of the same gender (Giddens and Sutton, 2017). In Britain the position of those in society who are not heterosexual has dramatically changed in recent years due to the campaign for rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and people of other sexualities (LGBT+). In history homosexuality has been an act considered criminal with the Buggery Act 1533 classifying it as punishable by death, followed by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 reducing this to a minimum of 10 years imprisonment. In 1967 the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised same-sex act between those aged over 21, this was followed by the Civil PArtnership Act 2004 which allowed same-sex couples to enter into binding partnerships, further to this the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 allowed same-sex couples to marry. Additionally the Gender Recognition Act 2004 gave new rights to transgender people, those whose gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth, by allowing them legal recognition of their new gender however, gender options are still limited to male or female. (Dryden, No Date).
The Office of National Statistics (2019) estimates that as of 2017 approximately 2% of the population identify as LGB. LGBT rights organisation Stonewall compiled a list of facts and figures regarding the experience of LGBT people within society from a range of reports in which they identify several areas in which inequality is still present. They identify that 1 in 5 LGBT people have been the victim of a hate crime relating to their identity within the last year and that 4 in 5 of these didn’t report it to the police, 19% of LGB employees have been subject to verbal bullying by customers or colleagues due to their identity, and that 45% of LGBT school pupils reported that they were subject to bullying due to their identity.
Despite changes in legislation in the UK with regards to sexuality, public attitude towards the LGBT community shows the prevalence of homophobia due to the occurrence of homophobic attacks. Former Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas was the victim of a homophobic attack as he was assaulted by a 16 year-old boy in Cardiff (Ostlere, 2018). Furthermore, Thomas Barwick was left with a fractured spine following a homophobic attack at London Pride (BBC News, 2018c) and 18 year-old Kydis Zellinger was attacked on a bus in Bristol and subjected to homophobic abuse (ITV News, 2018). Additionally, a gang was arrested in Hackney for a homophobic attack in which they doused their victims in acid (Sharman and Mills, 2019). This indicates that some parts of society may still be intolerant of the LGBT community, thus illustrating inequality.
Overall, it can be said that Britain has significantly less inequality than in previous eras due to extensive laws, legislations, and campaigns which have aimed to reduce inequality. However, the problem of inequality is still prevalent in modern Britain as there are still many beliefs and practices that have a negative impact on marginalised groups. Furthermore, it can be said that intersectionality, the interaction between these inequalities, may compound these experiences.
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