Attitudes to fairness unveiled
Attitudes to fairness unveiled

Attitudes to fairness unveiled

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What do people really think about fairness, and about our proposed definition of it in The Fair Necessities? And how do these views vary depending on people's political views, levels of income, gender, age, ethnicity, and where they live? Last month we commissioned some polling to find out - and the results are below. Read on to find out what we discovered.

Will Snell

Chief Executive Fairness Foundation

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Now we know what people really think about fairness

Brexit. The culture wars. Partygate. The north-south divide. Increasing poverty and hardship amid the cost-of-living crisis. The unequal impact of COVID. It’s all too easy to find reasons to believe that we live in a fractured and divided society, as we reflect on where we are as a nation during the week that we celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

But when you ask people what they think, you hear another side to the story. There is common ground. In 2020, More in Common’s report, Britain’s Choice, concluded that people can come together around the goal of building a fair society: “there is a consensus on the need to address inequality that transcends political divisions and reflects majority views... what is striking is how much common ground there is between those who emphasise systemic inequality and those who emphasise personal responsibility… most believe that the economy does not afford enough opportunity for those who work hard and want to get ahead… [and] integrate a belief in personal responsibility [with] the need to do more to reduce inequality."

Can we build a consensus, on the foundations of this common ground, around what fairness looks like, and how to achieve it?

Fairness feels like a potentially unifying concept. But it has been hamstrung by the absence of a shared understanding of what it means, and a common language for talking about it.

Enter the Fairness Foundation. We launched last year, with the goal of inspiring people around the UK to work together to create a fairer society. Beforehand we had spent months talking to policy experts and specialists in everything from philosophy to public attitudes, from across the political spectrum, to come up with a definition of fairness that could attract broad public support.

In November we published The Fair Necessities, which proposed five components of fairness:

  • Fair essentials - Everyone should have their basic needs met so no-one lives in poverty, and everyone can play a constructive role in society
  • Fair opportunities – Barriers that prevent people from having equal opportunities should be removed so everyone has a decent chance to succeed in life
  • Fair rewards - Everyone’s hard work should be rewarded on the basis of their contribution to our society and economy
  • Fair exchange - Everyone should contribute to society by paying the taxes they owe, and should be supported by society when they need it
  • Fair treatment - Everyone should be treated according to need, and should enjoy equal respect and influence on decisions made in their name

All well and good, but what do the public think?

We surveyed a representative sample of over 3,000 Britons last month, with More in Common and Public First, and found that there is very strong support for this agenda. Overall, 74 per cent of the public agree with the five ‘fair necessities’. This support holds up across the political divide and across regions, generations, ethnicities and income groups.

What is particularly striking is the strong consensus about the need to reduce inequality in order to build a society of fairer opportunities, with 83 per cent of the British public wanting to reduce inequality in British society. Even Conservative voters prefer reducing inequality to letting the market dictate outcomes by a factor of more than two to one.

It’s clear that most people think that society is unfair (only 27 per cent disagree). Only 21 per cent think that everyone is treated with equal respect, no matter who they are or how much money they have; and only 14 per cent think that people at the top have earned their position, and people at the bottom have brought their situation upon themselves.

There’s also plenty of common ground on how to build a fairer society. Our polling shows strong support for more state intervention to help those most affected by the cost-of-living crisis and other inequalities. Sixty-two per cent think the Government should do more to ensure people can meet their basic needs, and 68 per cent want the Government to make sure everyone pays their fair share of taxes. It’s no wonder that the Chancellor and Prime Minister felt obliged to bring in a windfall tax to finance extra payments to help people with the cost of living.

The public are hungry for a new, positive vision of Britain, and it’s clear from our polling that fairness, as a powerful unifying concept, should be at its heart. And we now have a definition of fairness that can act as the basis of a shared understanding of the concept.

The full survey results are on our website. Later this year we will publish the UK’s first ever fairness index, to paint a more detailed picture of how fair society is now, and to suggest practical and popular solutions that can build a fairer country.

Reads of the week

“It is not in any of our interests that more people doubt the benefits of business for society than think it is a positive”. Paul Lee comments in the Sense of Fairness blog about the High Pay Centre’s latest analysis of pay ratios in the FTSE 350.

“The economic gap between Britain’s younger graduates and non-graduates is a growing problem that politicians and policy-makers need to understand. Younger non-graduates – who live in all parts of the UK – are the most economically insecure and may not have the job security, housing security or pensions in the future that their predecessors had.” Jane Green at Nuffield College, University of Oxford introduces a report suggesting that voting blocs (including the ‘red wall’) need to be understood in terms of economic insecurity, not just income levels or class background, and that many older voters who are non-graduates with working-class backgrounds and relatively low incomes are still economically secure thanks to decent jobs and pensions and rising house prices.

“While there is evidence that some parenting programmes can improve parenting skills and outcomes for children, the review concludes that such programmes are less likely to succeed if not combined with action to reduce pressure on families, such as reducing poverty.” The Nuffield Foundation has published a new evidence review that explores the changing nature of parenting over the last two decades.

“One of the driving factors influencing whether citizens support climate policies is whether they view them as fair. The good news is there is more shared ground around what people think about fairness than may sometimes seem to be the case.” Climate Outreach’s new report provides a user’s guide to fairness in UK climate advocacy.

“This is a generational moment; history will view us harshly if we don’t do something.” Kwame Kwei-Armah talks about the launch of Black Equity Organisation, a new national civil rights group that has been set up by some of the UK’s most influential black figures to advance justice and equity for black people in Britain.

“At every stage of the career journey, from entering work to senior leadership, women of colour are being locked out of reaching their true potential.” A new report from the Fawcett Society and the Runnymede Trust examines the myth of meritocracy for women of colour in the workplace.

John Scalzi writes about the tenth anniversary of a seminal blog post that he wrote in 2012, suggesting that straight white men are playing the game of life on the lowest difficulty setting.

“Over the last thousand years or so the monarchy – as head of state – has represented an evolved and evolving institution. The question we face today is: what is the best structure for the country of the future?” The Commission on Political Power sets out six options for the role of the head of state within the UK’s constitution and Parliamentary democracy.

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