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What is equality? What does equal opportunity mean? Critically discuss with examples of where equality is used in society. (2000 words). The subject of equality is a complex phenomenon that has puzzled high profile people such as politicians, author’s, philosophers and ordinary man on the street alike. The debate has been on the agenda for centuries and continues without the elusive answer while an inequality masquerades around the world.
This essay will define equality and explain what equal opportunity means. The essay will focus on equality and equal opportunity policies on the local authority in the UK. The essay will also consider the issue of oppression and discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sex and any other form of discrimination that may come as a result of this discussion would be commented upon.
Equality is seen by Turner (1986) as both a value and principle that cannot be divorced from the evolution of citizenship. According to Malik (2003) equality is a concept that encourages the individual to confront, challenge and refuse to accept barriers that discriminate and deny them their life chances. Furthermore, he states that equality is valuing individuals of all diverse multicultural, gender, race, disability among others and by offering and providing equal chances in society irrespective of their variation within the population. Moreover, he explain that equality does not endorse inferiority or superiority within the society but uphold each individual’s human right not to be discriminated and denied his/her equality. In addition, he sees good practice as the cornerstone for promoting equal opportunities that can be achieved by anti-discrimination and anti-oppressive practices in the work place and wider society.
In a nut shell, Thompson (2000) confirms that equality does not advocate either uniformity or to treat everybody the same. In his view treating everybody the same reinforces inequalities, in that someone disadvantaged continues to be disadvantaged when treated in the same way as the person who has more life opportunity and access to resources. However, he point out that failure to recognise and acknowledge that people are different is colluding with discrimination and regard that as maintaining the status quo. Washington and Paylor (1998) reveal that the consequences of colluding with discrimination are social exclusion which has a multidimensional disadvantage. They mention that social exclusion dislocate people from the majority of the society social, citizenship, adequate living standard, employment and economic opportunities.
According to Thompson (2000) promoting equality is more complex and cannot be reduced to treating everybody the same because it runs deeper than avoiding personal prejudice or bigotry. Furthermore, he sees challenging discrimination and oppression through anti-discrimination and anti-oppressive practice as a strategy that can be used to promote equality, (Thompson 1998). In addition, he identifies empowerment as an important strategy with the potential to challenge racism and discrimination at personal, cultural and structural levels and reckons that empowerment is a unifying theme. Adams, (1996) assert that empowerment can be subject to contest although he accept that its core elements is to help individuals to gain control over their lives. Similarly, Darlymple and Burke, (1995) identifies empowerment as a process needed to remove obstacles to progress thereby enabling an individual to tackle their problems that lead to inequality and discrimination. Adam, (1996) defines discrimination, ‘as unfair or unequal treatment of individuals; prejudicial behaviour towards another person or powerless group such as women and ethnic minorities’. Discrimination comes in different forms such as race, age, gender, disability, religion, political opinion, belief and sex.
The UK Government has devised specific Legislations to promote equality at work places which helps the individual to lodge complaints when they experience unlawful discrimination. The Legislations that support equality are the Human Rights act 1998, Equal Pay Act 1970,Equality Act 2010, Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Race Relations Act 1976 (Amendment 2000) and Disability Discrimination Act 1995. These acts are watch dogs in their own rights at work places and their implementation form the bases of good practice, (Thompson 1998). Equality is prominently advocated in many quarters in society and public work places such as the local authority council. The UK Government intentions in addressing the issue of inequality are clear with the introduction of a merged unified body of Legislations geared to promote equality notable the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC, 2007). Equal rights Legislation Framework helps to curb inequality and discrimination (Malik 2003 and Thompson 1998).
It should be noted that the EHRC seek to outlaw and deal with all forms of discrimination and has the responsibility to promote human rights. McGauran (2001) and Solomos (1989) reveal a myriad of problems associated with putting the Equality Opportunity policies (EO) into practice by pointing out the obstacles and behaviours of some organisation. They reckon that despite the legislation and the organisation claims of adopting the EO policies some members of the organisation pay lip service and that managers subvert the procedures developed. Similarly, Liff and Dale (1999) and Dickens (2000) argue that adopting the EO policies does not indicate good intentions to change but can be seen as a mere declaration of the current practice.
Jewson et al (1990, 1992 and 1995) reveals a series of reason for organisation’s adoption of EO policies; as that for legal minimum requirements to guide management behaviour; as insurance policy; to demonstrate that the organisation is responsible employer; to be seen as pursuing the spirit of equality and to fulfill the law; to deflect pressure from pressure groups, community or media; for commercial advantage; to tap wider talent; in response to particular problems emanating internally or externally and to expand client or customer base. In addition, Dickens (1999 and 2000) argues that organisations does not promote equality of individuals but merely seek positive company image, better employee relations; as competitive position in labour market; to avoid penalties such as tribunal cost; bad publicity and investigations by EO Commission and Commission of Race Equality (CRE).
Hoque and Noon, (2004) point out that those EO policies may appeal to many unsuspecting yet to them it is not worth a paper they are written on. Their observation is further justified and substantiated by high profile cases of companies in the UK such as Ford UK, Microsoft, Coca-Cola and the local authority who failed to live up to the values of EO policies enshrined in their company policy. In like manner Young (1987), Liff and Dale (1994) show that many companies claim to have implemented the EO policies while the reality tells us that in practice inequality still persist within those organisations. Moreover, they see adopting EO policies as a way to deflect the pressure groups such as the CRE away from investigating them while they privately and publicly embraces unfair practices in all forms of discrimination and prejudices with inequality thriving to its greater heights. They also argue that EO policies have no substance or value to the victims of discrimination in the work place. In the eyes of Acker (2000) and Cockburn (1991) the extent of discrimination is perceived and understood differently by those who experience it and those who do not. They reveal that people living with disability, women, and other minority ethnic groups continue to be discriminated in work places. In like manner, Colgan et al (2003) blame the UK local authority for its myriad of failures to live up to the expectations of implementing the race equality plan despite being the pioneers of such policies in the 1980s. They also witnessed the tension and contradictions that existed with the introduction of New Public Management (NPM) agenda and those underpinning traditional personnel and EO policies and practice in public sectors. The impact of NPM on segregation within the local authorities in the UK has occurred as a result of managerial reliance on internal labour market which relies on word of mouth recommendations imbued with ethnocentric, open racism and gender and sex discrimination, (Carter 2000). Similarly, Rooney, (1987) cites an example of the local authority who recruited its staff by word of mouth when vacancies arose by telling predominately white managers to tell their friends. Adam, (1996) argues that such practice systematically marginalized and excluded potential black staff. In the same vein, Mirza (1991) cited in Thompson (2001) records the government failure to identify the roles of local authorities in ensuring their community care programme actively promoted equality or accounted for the impact of racial discrimination.
Furthermore, the stereotypical perceptions of ethnic minority and women impact on the management structures which has left the responsibility of recruitment and promotion to line managers who leaves women far behind in the packing order despite the gender equality policies, (Cunningham, 2000).
The changing political and legislative climate introduced by the Conservative government in the 80’s was heavily criticized by Creegan et al. (2003). They postulate that it demonised and progressively undermined the power and resource of the local authority in the introduction of the EO policies. Furthermore, they reveal that the equal pay bargaining, downsizing and competitive tendering as the regimes that increased the difficult that affected the local authority promotion of equality. Cunningham (2000) mentions that the consequences of the above prove it hard for the trade unions to defend them.
Dickens, (1999), Jewson and Mason (1994) and Hoque and Noon (2001) expressed their concerns of the UK local authority failure to live up to its expectation of good practice despite a long established EO policy. On the one hand they, postulate that the local authority commitment to EO has not diminished and suggest that there has been an improvement in the recruitment of black and visible minority staff.
In contrast, Colgan, et al (2003) refutes the above claims and insist that the 1997-99 NPM exacerbated race discrimination rather than eliminating or at least amelioration within the organisation. Their observation was further supported by the complaints from the staff about racism in the local authority which the CRE intervened. Siebert (2009) noticed that the traditional prejudice that men perform and succeed more than their counter part in public life is a barrier identified in the Scottish local authority council. It is believed that gender mainstreaming emerged as a new quality strategy which advances gender equality. In addition, Wirth (2001) reveal that the reports from the international labour office suggest that half of the world workers are segregated. Anker (1998) mentions that gender based occupational segregation as responsible for women disadvantaged position in the labour market.
Following the intervention by the CRE the local authority acknowledged the findings and evidence that suggested that it discriminated against the black and visibly minority and women, (Council 1999). The CRE intervention prompted a call to reinstate good practice in the local authority which was unanimously backed by all political parties in 1998. They suggest that the focus should be to eliminate institutionalised racism in the local authority employment practice. Council, (1999) also state that women highlighted the existence of discrimination within the local authority organisations on the grounds of sex. The council reported that women felt that the organisation stumbling block was a culture of white men predominance. They postulate that the majority of senior positions were held by white men leaving women in the shadows. Furthermore, they see the culture as that which is influenced by white men who measured the effectiveness of their staff on the grounds of how long they have been here; how loyal you are (i.e. not a whistle blower); how cynical you are; and how much you drink.
The revelations by the council women staff discrimination on the grounds of gender and sex suggest that line managers has adverse problems to the local authority management that contribute to gender and sex discrimination, (Glea 2000). What emerges from the above notion is that the local authority has failed to sufficiently challenge and eradicate race, gender and sex discrimination and to promote real transformation. Again, the perceived experiences by black minority ethnic, visibly minority and women remain a dent in the local authority council image in the challenge and amelioration of institutionalised discrimination. Aspinall and Mitton (2007) argued that CRE (2002) guidance set out clearly that the local council has the duty to promote the race equality, measure the progress and assessing impacts of the minority groups’ applications. Similarly, O’Cinneide (2005) concedes that the race equality as a framework seeks to promote equality to participation, equal worth as different human beings, mutual respect and representation to alleviate the impact of economic inequalities.
Jewson and Mason (1994) joined the chorus and eloquently expressed their disappointment about the companies who adopt EO policies and not put them into practice thereby becoming perpetuators of discrimination in work places. To substantiate their concern they reveal that local authorities that do not action EO policies undermine equality and equal opportunity for minority groups and women promotion to management.
The essay showed that the government has good intentions to promote equality and to ensure equal opportunity in the local authority with the introduction of various Acts and legislations geared to achieve the aforementioned objectives. However, despite such legislations in place such as CRE, EHRC and Gender equality amongst others at work places, the black and visibly minority and women are still heavily discriminated. It also emerged that equal opportunity for men and women of all walks of life is the objectives of employment guidelines and that EO policies measures are there to eradicate all forms of discrimination and to make equality cut across all employment pillars. The good practice shows patterns of black and visible ethnic minority process of inclusion and exclusion occurring and evidence that exclusion consequences is inequality in the access of resources and distribution of wealthy.
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