‘How fair is Britain?’: an encylopaedia

‘How fair is Britain?’ is the name of a huge report on equality launched earlier this week, which has been making waves in the British media.  It was written by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission – a statutory body responsible promoting human rights and promoting seven types1 of equality. The report has already been spun in countless different ways – at 750 pages, it offers something for everyone –  with the media variously picking up on ‘divided Britain’, the demands of being a carer, how attitudes to homosexuality have changed, and the striking result that the over-representation of black people in the prison system is greater in the UK  than in the US.  

Yet while the report itself looks like a fabulous encyclopaedia, I don’t think I’ll ever have a chance to read the whole report, and even the 48-page ‘executive summary’ is likely to lie unread on my desk for several months…  This made me wonder about the purpose of these massive stock-taking exercises.  Are they destined to be headline-grabbing encyclopaedias: a great source of stats, but with no overarching story?

The only example I know of a report of this length that does tell a story is the shorter- at only 500 pages! – report in Jan 2010 by the National Equality Panel.  Like the EHRC report, it has a bewildering array of colourful figures and enough information to induce a headache.  But at the same time, the National Equality Panel reduced all their findings to a six-page summary, and worked with the Guardian newspaper to turn the most striking findings into a two-page spread.

The main question though is not about brevity – it’s about translating these numbers into policy.  Both of these reports focus on around 15 different ‘challenges’ – and the NEP chair John Hills links this to a very coherent story about inequality over the lifecycle, which we’ve put up on the site.

Yet there’s still something about the amount of detail in these reports that makes it difficult to see the bigger picture.  How we could do this is the subject of a second post later this week, inspired by probably the most influential British sociologist of the past few decades: John Goldthorpe.


1. These are “age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment.” The reasons for explicitly listing these seven ‘protected areas’ lie in the politics of its recent history…


About Ben Baumberg Geiger

I am a Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) at the University of Kent. I also helped set up the collaborative research blog Inequalities, where I write articles and short blog posts. I have a wide range of research interests, at the moment focusing on disability, the workplace, inequality, deservingness and the future of the benefits system, and the relationship between evidence and policy. You can find out more about me at http://www.benbgeiger.co.uk
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One Response to ‘How fair is Britain?’: an encylopaedia

  1. Pingback: How not to drown in numbers… | Inequalities

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