The UK is one of the most unequal societies in Europe. Even though decreasing unemployment and low inflation have reduced income inequality for now, unfair taxes, stagnant incomes and unaffordable housing risk enlarging the wealth gap.
It is not only about raw data. Inequality is widely perceived as a growing problem in society. According to the 2016 British Social Survey, more than 76% of the people believe there is a wide divide between social classes.
Abundant empirical research shows how bad inequality can be for general economic stability, criminality, individual self-esteem, mental health, sense of trust and civic participation.
Many of these issues are closely connected to human rights.
Equality is of paramount importance for individual freedom and meaningful choice in a free society, and growing inequality within a country suggests that its government is not doing everything in its power to guarantee an adequate standard of living for all.
Public authorities must safeguard not only formal equality but also substantive equality. They must protect equality in the law, but also adopt the necessary policies to address the underlying causes that fuel economic and social disparities.
In 2015, together with other countries the UK pledged to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome (Sustainable Development Goal No. 10). The UK has also ratified a number of treaties promising to abide by the principle of equality and non-discrimination, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
However, the UN body that monitors states’ compliance with this treaty concluded in its 2016 report that the Government has not done everything within its power regarding non-discrimination.
Specifically, the UN asked the Government to bring the Equality Act 2010 to life in full.
We need evidence-based policies to reduce inequality and support human rights, and we need such policies to be adopted at all levels of government. Section 1 of the Equality Act provides this by calling on public authorities to aim at the reduction of the inequalities of outcome that result from socio-economic disadvantage.
Section 1 should be part of the Prime Minister’s vision of a “shared society.” The Government failed to implement this socio-economic duty in 2010, but it is not too late. There is a perfect opportunity to announce the commencement of section 1 in the green paper on social justice, expected in February.
Both in principle and in practical terms, equality matters to human rights, and human rights matter to equality.
We in Just Fair are excited to work together with The Equality Trust and others advocating the implementation of section 1 of the Equality Act.
Koldo Casla is a human rights advocate and researcher, working for economic and social rights for Just Fair in the UK. He previously worked as a research consultant for Amnesty International Spain.