Recent Equality Articles

Evidence shows Labour’s decision to means-test WFA will hit poorer pensioners too

by Paul Cotterill     June 4, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Sunny says that a key argument being deployed in favour of keeping universal winter fuel allowance, by the likes of Peter Hain is specious:

There is no evidence that offering universal pensioner benefits preserves support for universal benefits more broadly. Basically, people support benefits they get, but not other types of benefits such as for the unemployed or low paid.

Indeed, hurrah for evidence-based policy.

Here’s more evidence, from HMRC’s 2010-11 review of the take up of Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit ad Working Tax Credit:

The central estimate of the Child Benefit take-up rate in 2010-11 is 96 per cent.
The central estimate of the Child Tax Credit caseload take-up rate in 2010-11 is 83 per cent.
The central estimate of the Working Tax Credit caseload take-up rate in 2010-11 is 64 per cent.

That is, take up be families who are eligible for benefits are much lower when they are mean tested, and even lower when that means testing becomes complex.

Then there’s Free School Meals

More than a quarter of children entitled to free school meals take a packed lunch instead because they fear being stigmatised, according to a study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research.

The idea, then, that a means testing policy for winter fuel targeted at the richest pensioners will end up just affecting the richest pensioners is fanciful; the much greater effect will be on pensioners who, for whatever reason or set of reasons, don’t feel able to submit themselves to the means-testing process.

It is also reasonable to conjecture that there will be a negative correlation between vulnerability/poverty and take up.

Of course, in a more socially just we wouldn’t need winter fuel allowances at all, because fuel would be affordable to the poorest, but given where we are it is highly irresponsible for Labour to be signing up to policy which may result directly in cold, dead pensioners.

But cold, dead pensioners aside, the continuing distance in the Labour party between policymaking and the reality of policy implementation – of the type which brought us the Lord Freud Welfare to Work Narnia in 2008 – continues to be a disappointment.

This was the kind of thing that wasn’t supposed to happen after the Refounding Labour process, because policy was supposed to become grounded in the experience of those implementing that policy and those living with its consequences.

Think the Greens are the party of the middle-class? Think again

by Guest     June 3, 2013 at 3:09 pm

by Josiah Mortimer

A bunch of humus-eating, London-dwelling, middle-class, Masters-holding Guardian-readers. That’s the stereotype of Green members anyway. How true is it though? The answer is – not entirely.

The results of the Green Party Equality and Diversity membership survey are in, and some of the results are fascinating. 1100 members took the survey, a decent proportion of the party (especially for a voluntary questionnaire) and around the sample size of most polling.

Bearing in mind that non-compulsory surveys, especially online ones, generally over-represent wealthier people – those with more spare time on their hands and generally the most politically engaged – the findings are surprising.

Nearly a quarter – 23.4% – of Green Party members earn less than £10,000 a year. This category was by far the plurality – i.e. the largest group. Over 17% live on between £10-15k a year, another 12% between £15-20k and 10% between £20-25k – still below the average income nationally. In total, this means well over 60% of Greens earn below the median income of £26,500.

Since the median income, by definition, means there are around 50% on either side earning more or less, for 60% to be earning less than this in the party means Greens are actually over-representative of people from lower-income background.

Only 9% slotted into the top-rate of tax band of more than £45k a year, probably explaining why we’re so skint all the time. So the stereotype of the Greens as middle-class hippies seems just that: a stereotype.

Yet class is a messy concept, of course, and income isn’t always the best indicator. Occupation, background, housing type, education, culture – all are factors in many definitions of class. Sadly the survey didn’t look into all of these, but the figures for education are less surprising than income.

The proportion of members with a university degree is 57%, far above the national figure of 26%. Within the 57% figure (since you could tick more than one box), 37% of all respondents had a Masters, PhD or other ‘higher’ degree. A pretty huge figure. Given the stats earlier about income, it seems the Greens are becoming a party of the precariat – educated but poor, especially given a higher proportion of members compared to the general public who are private renters (20%) and living with family or friends (nearly 8%).

On the whole, this seems to be borne out by how members described themselves in class terms. 56% responded as ‘lower middle class’, and just under a quarter (23%) identified as ‘working class’ of some form or another.

Shout it loud – the Greens are becoming the true party of the working-class. Even if most of us are humus-eating Guardian readers.

Green Party members can view the full survey results by logging in here.
Josiah Mortimer is a student and Green Party activist based in York. Follow him at @josiahmortimer

If winter fuel payments should be universal, why shouldn’t housing benefit?

by Don Paskini     June 3, 2013 at 2:20 pm

I’ve got no problem with Labour’s plans to means test the Winter Fuel Allowance – it strikes me as a perfectly sensible thing to stop spending £100 million on payments to higher earners which many people value so little that they choose to donate to charity. I think it is vital that the welfare state has a mix of targeted and universal services, and that at times it makes sense to review and make some (such as winter fuel payments) targeted, while extending others (such as childcare) to be universal. Language of priorities and all that.

That said, I’ve read the eloquent arguments from Peter Hain, Owen Jones and others about the evils of means testing. They argue that means testing involves more bureaucracy, misses out lots of needy people, undermines social solidarity and hurts those who are neither rich nor very poor. If this is a principle which applies to the winter fuel allowance, then logically it is one which should apply to the rest of the social security system.

The biggest means tested benefit is housing benefit. Every part of the universalist critique applies to this benefit. The housing benefit assessment system is very bureaucratic. There are lots of needy people who currently suffer with high housing costs, but who are not eligible for housing benefit. The fact that some people get very high housing benefit payments while others pay in and get nothing is definitely a source of resentment which undermines social solidarity (far more so than winter fuel payments).

Yet I have never ever heard any leftie argue that the existence of means tested housing benefit undermines the welfare state, and never seen anyone call for it to be made universal.

I don’t think this is just a matter of pragmatism, focusing on the immediate battles and defending what we have, leaving the longer term goals of a universal housing benefit for another day. I think it is a recognition that different types of problems require different approaches, and that universality is not, ahem, a universal principle for the welfare state.

How Labour could go further in reducing violence against women

by Guest     May 28, 2013 at 9:31 am

by Holly Dustin

A report by the Deputy Children’s Commissioner last week found that children, especially boys, are viewing violent pornography and that this is influencing their behaviour.

This is highly disturbing and comes swiftly after our own report, Deeds or Words? which found that the government is failing in its promise to prevent abuse of women and girls.

So why isn’t this a political priority?

The background to these reports is a growing body of evidence to show that young women and girls are targeted for certain types of abuse by men and boys, some of which is linked to new technology.

Recent research on ‘sexting’ by the NSPCC, which found it to be often coercive and linked to abusive behaviour, was tragically highlighted by the case of 13 year old Chevonea Kendall-Bryan who fell to her death pleading with a boy to delete indecent images of her. Our own polling in 2010 found that one in three girls in the UK said they had been ‘groped’ or experienced other unwanted sexual touching at school.

An Ofsted report found that poor quality Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) in over a third of schools was leaving children vulnerable to inappropriate sexual behaviours and sexual exploitation.

We were delighted when Yvette Cooper MP Labour would make SRE compulsory in order to teach young people about sexual consent, and respectful and equal relationships. But SRE is one part of a much broader package of work that is urgently needed if we genuinely want to prevent abuse before it begins.

So, as Labour’s manifesto work progresses, we want to see concrete commitments to:

1) Run a long-term public campaigns to change abusive attitudes and behaviours (similar to the ongoing drink-driving campaigns which have changed attitudes to seat-belts and drink driving over a number of decades)

2) Make SRE compulsory as part of a ‘whole-school approach’ to tackling violence against women and girls which would include ongoing teacher training so that teachers are equipped and confident to identify and respond to the signs of abuse

3) Tackling misogynistic messages through the media and social media that condone abuse. Hats off to the fantastic campaign targeting rape and domestic violence pages on Facebook. The Children’s Commissioner’s report has highlighted children’s access to violent pornography and the disturbing murders Tia Sharp and April Jones cases reportedly include pornographic images, including images of rape and incest. We are supporting a campaign by Croydon Rape Crisis to make possession of simulated images of rape porn illegal.

4) Funding women’s groups to run innovative prevention projects in the community, and to ensure that all women and girls experiencing abuse, either now or in the past, have access to specialist women’s support services.

We are calling on our political leaders, both men and women, to be aspirational and to say that violence against women and girls is not inevitable, and they will take action to prevent it. A world that is safe and equal for women and girls is possible, and we now need to make the promise a reality.

Holly Dustin is at End Violence Against Women Coaltion

Why Cameron faces stiff resistance to gay marriage: mapping the UK religious right

by Unity     May 21, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Given the debate in the House of Commons, I think it’s well worth reflecting on exactly where opposition to equal marriage is coming from and, particularly, how that opposition is being organised.

As far as public opinion is concerned, YouGov President Peter Kellner laid out the actual position with admirable clarity yesterday:

The passions of grass-roots Tories who are bitterly opposed to same-sex marriage are not shared by the wider electorate. Most voters back a change in the law – and very few opponents are willing to switch their votes because of this issue.

So, among the public as a whole, 4% are pro-same-sex marriage AND say this is a vote-deciding issue, while 3% are in the opposite camp. Among those who voted Conservative in 2010, just 6% say this is a vote-deciding issue, and they divide 3-1 against same-sex marriage. So even there, the net effect is tiny.

So, not only do a majority of the public support marriage equality but its also anything but the political hot potato that its (mostly) Tory opponents are trying to make out.

However, one issue not many pick up on is the parallel problem of ‘organisational capture’, i.e. what us lefties used to refer to as ‘entryism‘.

In simple terms, it is not simply a matter of the decline in the mass membership of political parties, and other organisations, leaving them increasingly at the mercy of their residual ‘swivel-eyed’ activist rump. It also leaves them in a position where, starting at the grassroots level, they become increasingly susceptible to capture by organised minority interest groups intent on using the party/organisation as a vehicle to push their own narrow agenda.

Although this is problem that is, historically, most closely associated with the political left, and in the UK particular with the takeover of the Labour Party Young Socialists and Liverpool City Council by Militant, it is an issue that is increasingly coming to bedevil conservative politics, particularly in the United States. For example, one of the more alarming and poignant stories to emerge from the 2010 US election was that of Bob Inglis, a former Republican member of the US House of Representatives who was deselected in 2010 after losing a primary to Tea Party-backed candidate.

You might think this can safely be filed away under ‘only in America’, but don’t be so sure.

Take a good hard look at the following chart which I’ve put together in an attempt to map the many connections that already exist between our own right-wing Christian lobby and both their US counterparts and, more importantly, with a wide range of British conservative political organisations and politicians.

The map, which is far from complete, shows the extent to which our own religious lobby has already forged connections and assumed positions of influence throughout the right-wing/conservative movement in Britain.

It also shows the extent to which political opposition to measures such as equal marriage and legal access to safe abortion services originates with and is tied into a very narrow range of closely connected religious groups.

(download as a print quality PDF, 1mb)

If you think that the religious right in Britain is no more than a bunch of fringe evangelical groups with few connections and very little political influence, this chart may well persuade you to think again.

A longer version of this post is here.

Why doesn’t the left think more about how to shift public opinion?

by Chris Dillow     May 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm

What function do, or should, left-wing parties serve? I ask this old question because of a paper which Jon has drawn my attention to.

Peter Taylor-Gooby points out that, as inequality has risen, attitudes towards the poor and benefit recipients have hardened. He suggests several longer-term reasons for this, among them the decline of class alignment and rise of individualism. I'd add three other factors:

– A mistaken factual base. The public under-estimate bosses' pay and over-estimate welfare benefits.

– Recessions usually make people more mean-spirited.

– Capitalism generates cognitive biases (ideologies) that result in hostility to welfare recipients.

As Taylor-Goody says, it doesn't need to be this way: "Alternative approaches that emphasise reciprocity, solidarity and inclusion are possible."

This poses the question: how do we get to such approaches from where we are? One possibility is to look to a leftist party to argue for them. But there are good reasons to expect the Labour party not to do this. Just as companies' marketing strategies rarely work by telling potential customers they are stupid, so political campaigns rarely do so. This is why Labour panders to some of the worst aspects of public opinion, on immigration or welfare, rather than outrightly opposes it. The Labour party is a managerialist marketing strategy, not a force for truth and justice.

But if Labour is not an agency for radical change, what is? Sure, there are a few bloggers and columnists who are trying to shift the Overton window, but these tend to preach to smallish groups of the already-converted.

This, of course, is not to deny that social attitudes can change. For example, during my lifetime, attitudes to gays has improved considerably. But I fear that this progress has been like Max Planck's view of scientific advance – it has happened one funeral at a time.

And herein lies a paradox of the left. Whilst we have spent decades advocating social change, we have remarkably few answers to the question: through what mechanisms, exactly, can it be achieved?

Why is the Alan Turing pardon so narrow?

by Robert Sharp     May 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Alan Turing

The Alan Turing Statutory Pardon Bill has been published on the Houses of Parliament website.

Turing was a mathematician and philosopher who cracked the Nazi Enigma code and invented electronic computing. He was also a homosexual, and was convicted of “Gross indecency between men” in 1952. As a result he lost his security clearance, was subjected to chemical castration, and committed suicide when he was only 42.

This statutory pardon seeks to atone for the Government’s appalling treatment of a national hero.

Nevertheless, the idea of such a narrow pardon worries me a little.

The implication seems to be that Turing gets a pardon because he achieved so much. But that should not be how the law and justice works.

What about all those under-achievers and ordinary men who were convicted under the same illiberal and unjust law? Why do they not get a pardon too?

The Stuart Hall case ends the debate on anonymity for rape defendants

by Sian Norris     May 10, 2013 at 10:30 am

Having strenuously protested his innocence just three months ago, veteran BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall last week admitted he sexually abused girls – one of whom was as young as nine.

The Hall case shows more than ever just how vital it is that we continue to name men accused of rape and sexual assault. Because it is this naming that can give survivors and victims the confidence to come forward. 

In Hall’s case, the police and CPS have been vocal in their argument for naming defendants. They have explained how naming Hall helped lead to his guilty admission. As survivors recognised that they were not alone, that he had attacked others, the police were able to gather the evidence they needed to charge and eventually prosecute.

We see the same pattern over and over again. Serial rapist John Worboys is a key example in how naming a defendant helped lead to his conviction. After he was named, it became impossible for the police to ignore the weight, the sheer amount, of women coming forward to name him as their rapist. Naming leads to evidence which helps lead to convictions. 

Some argue that if we name the accused we should name the alleged victim. But why? Naming the victim isn’t going to help lead to convictions, it’s not going to help secure justice for rape survivors.

People cry ‘false accusations’ but if a woman is charged with that specific crime, then of course she will be named as she will be a defendant herself. The case of Ched Evans shows what can happen when you name the survivor. His victim was victimised all over again when she was subjected to horrific abuse to the point that she had to change her name and flee her home. How can we have ended up in a situation where some treat rapists with more sympathy and respect than their victims?

When criticising the policy of naming defendants, I think people confuse two different issues. The first is the legal issue and the indisputable, mounting, continuing evidence that naming helps convict rapists. The second is media behaviour.

The fact that the media convict people in their pages and often seem to tread a very narrow line between reporting and contempt of court is not a reason to end the policy of naming defendants. It is too important a policy, too important in bringing justice to victims and survivors, to be dropped because the press behave intrusively.

Press behaviour is an issue for the press. If they harass and taunt and wrongly convict men in their pages then that is not the fault of a sensible law that helps bring justice to rape victims. Bad behaviour in some sections of the media is not a reason to deny women and girls up and down the UK justice.

A longer version of this blog-post is here.

Convictions for rape: how the Crown Prosecution Service is misleading us

by Unity     April 25, 2013 at 8:51 am

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, rape convictions have hit an all -time high:

The Crown Prosecution Service has today published new figures that show the conviction rate for rape and domestic violence prosecutions increased once again last year.

The statistics show that the conviction rate for rape prosecutions has continued to rise to the highest on record, from 58% in 2007/08 to 63% in 2012/13. CPS recorded data on rape prosecutions includes all cases initially charged and flagged as rape, including those cases where a conviction was obtained for alternative sexual offences or serious offences of homicide or offences against the person.

Ah, but have you noticed the caveat in paragraph 2?

In the parallel universe that bureaucrats inhabit a ‘rape conviction’ is not actually a conviction for rape, it includes any conviction is a case that was initially charged and flagged as a rape, even if the actual rape charge was dropped before the case reached court or the defendant was acquitted of rape but convicted on a lesser offence.

In short, however good the overall conviction rate in these case might now look on paper, the claim that rape convictions have hit an all-time high is bullshit, a point that I made back in March 2012 when they tried the same bullshit arguments.

I’ve pulled together this [hopefully] handy infographic which lays out the truth about rape – from the British Crime Survey estimates for annual prevalence of rape and other serious sexual offences, to the CPS’s own audited figures for outcomes (for cases initiated in 2009).

Starting from a annual baseline of 85,000 completed or attempted serious sexual offences against adult women in England and Wales, plus around 10,500 rapes in which the victim was a female child (i.e. under 16), the criminal justice system delivered just 802 actual rape convictions.

I.e. where a defendant was actually convicted of rape and not a lesser offence, of which over half (415) came by way of a guilty plea and just over half were for offences against children.

In short, in that audited data, less than 400 actual convictions for rape related to offences in which the female victim was aged 16 or over.


Full file here (large 6mb PDF).

Copyright notionally creative commons non-commercial licence, but I can also waive that if the poster’s being used for fund-raising purposes by a non-profit organisation.

Thatcher’s homophobia: why have we glossed over this legacy?

by Claude Carpentieri     April 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm

In the flurry of hagiographies and tributes to Margaret Thatcher, her long list of heinous political acts seems to have been ENTIRELY forgotten. In particular, the way her rampant homophobia became integral to British law.

Which, you will understand, hardly sits at ease with the relentless campaign to portray her as Holy. They may tell you that she was stubborn and, if they really fancy rocking the boat, that “some people saw her as fairly divisive”, but that Thatcher was behind Britain’s first new anti-gay law since 1885 is so utterly embarrassing that chances are you won’t hear about it.

Like human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell writes, “At the Conservative party conference in 1987 Mrs Thatcher mocked people who defended the right to be gay, insinuating that there was no such right.

During her rule, arrests and convictions for consenting same-sex behaviour rocketed, as did queer bashing violence and murders. This backlash coincided with her successive “family values” and “Victorian values” campaigns, which urged a return to traditional morality and family life. In fact this is what she publicly said:

Too often, our children don’t get the education they need—the education they deserve…

Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of those children are being cheated of a sound start in life—yes, cheated.

Which is how, aided by a hysterical tabloid campaign about “the loonie left” and “gay lobbies” along with talks of AIDS as “the gay plague” and the barefaced lie that “GAY PORN BOOKS [were being] READ IN SCHOOLS“, the Thatcher government steamrollered in the homophobic Section 28.

The Act, which remained part of the statute book until Labour scrapped it in 2003, was as controversial and ambiguous as it was soaked in hate and deep prejudice.

In one fell swoop, Section 28 crucially advocated censorship – preventing local authorities and schools from discussing (“promoting”, the hideous wording was) homosexuality or engaging in anti-bullying activities, sneered at “pretended family relationships”, and added insult to injury by linking homosexuality to “the spread of disease”.

It is almost impossible to believe that such an ignorant piece of legislation was part of the British legislative framework and that half the Tory party was still defending it tooth and nail as recently as 2003.

Nevertheless, caught between rising homophobic violence and intolerance, and the calls in favour of tackling discrimination and promoting acceptance, Thatcher made it very clear where she stood.

No coincidence that, shortly after Section 28 became law, the offices of a gay newspaper, Capital Gay, were burnt down and lesbian and gay helplines reported a threefold increase in “queer bashing”.

Which is why, when the current hysteria over Maggie’s beatification subsides a little, hopefully the world will manage to remember how such a detestably homophobic piece of legislation was entirely in line with Thatcher and her character. Now hopefully buried forever.

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