Isn’t it time to legislate more to fight against social class inequality and classism?


According to the Social Mobility Commission, even when people from working-class backgrounds have the same level of education, the same role and the same experience as their more privileged colleagues, people from poorer backgrounds are still paid in average £2,242 (7%) less.

“Every decade we slyly declare that we have buried the class; every decade the coffin remains empty,” scholar Richard Hoggart once wrote. Empty indeed, the class coffin remains, despite claims that “we’re all middle class now”. For your class background, as opposed to talent and merit, not only determines how far you can go in modern Britain, but it also means you find yourself subject to snobbery and class discrimination.

A new report published by the British Psychological Society (BPS) describes in damning detail the impacts of social class discrimination that workers face in education, work and health. One of the report’s findings was that the “stereotypical threat” in schools, where children fear their behavior will confirm others’ negative expectations of “people like them”, leads to anxiety and interference with learning, reduced performance and increased disengagement. with education.

One of the most shocking findings of an experiment conducted by the report’s authors, highlighted in the New Statesman, is that teachers “give grades based on class.” “When assignments were the same, they gave lower grades to children who were perceived to be working class.”

For those of us from working class backgrounds, such findings are not so surprising. You quickly realize that “entering” and “going up” are two very different battles, each with their own barriers.

Indeed, according to a Labor Force Survey, the largest employment survey in the UK, people from working class backgrounds who enter universities and elite professions still earn average £6,400 less than their middle-class peers. That’s a class pay gap of almost 16%.

According to the Social Mobility Commission, even when people from working-class backgrounds have the same level of education, the same role and the same experience as their more privileged colleagues, people from poorer backgrounds are still paid in average £2,242 (7%) less. Only 10% of people from the working class reach high managerial, professional or cultural positions in Britain.

Class discrimination in the workplace is alive and well. How else to explain that people from the working class earn less than those from the middle class, even when they have the same qualifications and perform the same type of work.

Yet despite this, social class is not considered a legally protected characteristic. The BPS rightly argues that “to truly ‘step up’ and tackle the growing social mobility gap, social class must be protected under the Equality Act”.

Although the Equality Act 2010 currently provides applicants and employees with protection against discrimination and harassment with respect to the nine protected characteristics, including sex, race and disability, it does not prohibit the discrimination based on class or socio-economic status.

Although it is complex to arrive at a uniform definition of class, working towards establishing a definition and measuring it, for example, for professions, would go some way towards eradicating class-based discrimination. .

The authors of the report define class using three measures: economic capital, social capital and cultural capital. In other words: “financial resources, who you know and what you know”.

If class were to become a protected characteristic, then employers would need to carefully consider their recruitment criteria. Requiring unpaid internships could indirectly discriminate against disadvantaged candidates.

Plus, there’s no reason big corporations can’t start monitoring and publishing data on their class pay gaps like they do with gender and race. Large companies have already started collecting data from employees on the type of school they attended, whether or not they received free school meals as students, and parental occupation. Publishing data regarding the class backgrounds of all staff, especially those in leadership positions, will enable transparency and benchmarking across companies and sectors.

Of course, this is not to say that class operates in a vacuum and does not interact with gender and race, for example with particularly disadvantaged working-class women of color.

It is therefore time for clearer initiatives to also tackle class-based discrimination.

As the BPS so aptly explains: “An essential first step in tackling inequalities based on social class is the inclusion of social class as a protected characteristic in the Equality Act (2010).

“Directly changing the broader socio-political context by prohibiting discrimination based on social class or socio-economic status would create an immediate and clear legal mandate for initiatives to reduce class-based discrimination and a standardized and widely implemented method. publicly reported social class data collection work. -results based.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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