Welcome to the first edition of Fair Comment.
We’ll be bringing you a zingy perspective every Monday, looking at what’s happened and what’s being talked about in politics and broader society, prodding Britain with a fairness stick. Every week we’ll highlight a few key stories and provide links to interesting reads, as well as asking you to share your thoughts on an online poll (starting next week). All done and dusted in five minutes flat. We don’t have any illusions that this is a comprehensive summary of everything fairness-related - it’s geared towards our own priority focus areas at any point in time. You’ve been warned!
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Chief Executive Fairness Foundation
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Unequal life chances: kids without beds
Schools can’t make up for the lack of a good night’s sleep
A shocking story in the Guardian this week about a charity in Leeds, Zarach, which was set up by a teacher and her dad in 2018 to distribute beds and duvets to children sleeping on the floor. The teacher, Bex Wilson, started the charity after learning that children in her class were tired and irritable because they didn’t have a bed to sleep in at home. The article tells the story of a single parent who had been the victim of fraud and moved to an unfurnished house to save money, and had nothing to put in it except a single plastic garden chair and one lightbulb. Research suggests that more than 5,000 children in Leeds alone don’t have a bed to sleep in.
How can we expect schools to provide every child with equal learning opportunities when child poverty is so widespread and severe that many children can’t even sleep at night? One of the foundations of a fair society (The Fair Necessities) is that everyone has the same substantive opportunities to realise their potential; this requires radical steps to remove structural barriers that face people born into disadvantaged circumstances, effectively by ‘designing out bad luck’. This story illustrates the complex set of issues to be addressed; even if the immediate cause of the problem was fraud, the underlying drivers are the causes of poverty, including badly paid and insecure work, and the housing and cost of living crises.
Unequal life chances: racial inequality
More than half of black children in Britain live in poverty
More bad news, this time from the Labour Party, which has published analysis of DWP and population data showing a huge racial divide within the 31% of British children who live in poverty (itself an eye-watering statistic). Over six in ten Bangladeshi children and more than five in ten black children live in poverty, compared to a quarter of white children and just over one in ten Chinese children. Of course, white children account for the largest absolute number of children in poverty (over two thirds). Poverty rates have increased noticeably in several ethnic groups over the last decade.
It’s clear that structural barriers to opportunity are at play here. Unless we take determined action to tackle them, we can’t claim that we live in a meritocratic society where everyone has equal life chances, and where effort and talent are fairly rewarded. The Civil Society report on the state of race and racism in England to the United Nations CERD in 2021 found that racism is systemic in England and impacts BME groups’ enjoyment of rights: “Legislation, institutional practices and society’s customs continue to combine to harm BME groups. As a result, in England, BME groups are consistently more likely to live in poverty, to be in low-paid precarious work and to die of COVID-19. Disparities facing BME groups in England are sustained across the areas of health, housing, the criminal justice system, education, employment, immigration and political participation.”
Statistic of the week
Real wages look set to fall for most of 2022
This chart from the Resolution Foundation’s Labour Market Outlook Q4 2021 shows that real earnings are likely to be in negative territory for most of this year. The report notes that “by the end of 2024, average earnings are set to be £740 a year lower than they would have been if even the sluggish wage growth prior to the pandemic had continued.”
Reads of the week
Stephan Lewandowsky and Ullrich Ecker explain in The Conversation that most people don’t want a return to normal after COVID – they want a fairer, more sustainable future.
Fiona Harvey in The Guardian writes about Labour’s demands for action on air pollution, after their analysis of official data showed that the UK’s 50 most polluted areas also have the highest rates of child poverty.
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