Poverty and the Equalities Agenda

New campaign launched to review the Equalities Act

Hackney’s voluntary sector is well aware of the harsh reality of poverty and its effects on local residents (chronic stress, lower life expectancy, higher rates of mental health problems etc). That this reality exists alongside luxury developments and other forms of gentrification means that we need to work to keep the issue on the agenda. We all know that poverty is on the increase – benefits aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, rising housing costs are making it harder for people to make ends meet and wages aren’t keeping up with inflation. Yet even as more and more people experience financial stress the stigmatisation of poverty continues. Research confirms that this stigma runs deep – not only does the media often show benefits claimants as lazy scroungers but people claiming benefits often talk about themselves negatively [1].

Facts about outrageous levels of global wealth inequality are also no longer suprising (according to an Oxfam report 42 people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.7 billion people) [2]. While the local reality of poverty in Hackney may seem unconnected to the growing assets of global billionaires a recent study from the London School of Economics shows that the two are linked – growing wealth inequality is linked to increasing levels of poverty. Rachael Orr, Oxfam’s Head of UK Programmes, said: “This research shows that trying to tackle poverty without taking measures to reduce inequality, is like entering a fight with one hand tied behind your back.” [3]

As the link between poverty and inequality is coming to light it is time to reflect on the role of the Equalities agenda in addressing these issues. In Ireland the government are currently looking at a bill to prohibit discrimination based on ‘disadvantaged socio-economic status’, however in the UK socio-economic status is not included as a protected characteristic [4]. In June a UK based campaign was launched to review the Equalities Act which will include a public consultation on how to make the Act fit to meet today’s challenges. Addressing class discrimination and the persistence of the stigmatisation of poverty must be part of this work.

[1] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/for-whose-benefit/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2018/jan/22/inequality-gap-widens-as-42-people-hold-same-wealth-as-37bn-poorest and https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/what-we-do-we-campaign-we-catalyse-we-co-operate

[3] http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/for-whose-benefit/

[4] http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/proposal-to-make-disadvantaged-socio-economic-status-a-prohibited-ground-of-discrimination-under-irish-law/

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