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Equality and DiversityEssay

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UK Employment Inequality

Analyzing the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Legislative Approach to Redressing Employment Inequality in the UK

In the UK, equal opportunity legislation is meant to support via the legislative branch of government the social ideal of equality. Equality, along with liberty and fraternity, has been a hallmark ideal of modern Western society for the past quarter of a millennium, heralded as a natural right of mankind, as all individuals are "born equal" (Rousseau, 1762). Yet, the necessity of enforcing this ideal through law suggests that what appears "a natural right" is either a) anything but, or b) under attack from "unnatural" forces. Both "a" and "b" have their own logical inferences, though each is of a particularly subjective character; therefore, they will serve as the secondary focus of this paper which is primarily concerned with the objective consequences of legislative redress. Muddying the discussion even more, however, is the necessity of allowing exemptions from equal opportunity legislation (for instance, in the case of priests of the Catholic Church, or special interest groups such as Gay Activist Lobbies, or in the arts); in such cases, the "natural" ideal of equality all but vanishes as a "natural" right and reappears as a politicized ideal which has both pragmatic and social drawbacks (Swinson, 2014). (At what point does equality become "more" or "less" satisfactory and not an "all or nothing" principle? That such a question is even raised signifies that "equality" as a principle in the UK is still something that the English world is uncomfortable with.) So while there have certainly been advantages to redressing employment inequality in the UK over the years (such as the abolishment of primogeniture), there are also disadvantages that should be considered as well -- such as the risk of exposing the ideology of equality to criticisms of hypocrisy, double standards, superficiality, etc., which can lead to "blowback" in social, political and economical spheres of the UK. This paper will critically analyze both advantages and disadvantages of using legislation to redress inequality in the English workplace and show how the issue of "equality" is one that raises more fundamentally complex questions than it does solutions regarding society.

Media reports have ranged from drawing attention to the change of 300-year-old laws regarding patriarchal succession (BBC, 2008) to concerns over religious expression (Walker, 2009). The former garnered so much attention that an "about-turn" occurred in the drafting of Single Equality Bill of 2008: plans to abolish primogeniture in England (in place since the Settlement Act of 1701) were "scrapped" following social and political outcry and a statement from the Attorney General, who stated that redressing the inequality of primogeniture "would be a complex undertaking involving…the consent of legislatures of member nations of the Commonwealth" -- in short, the permission of powerful entities behind the scenes of Parliament (Pierce, 2008). The Law of Succession would finally come to an end three years later in 2011, when Queen Elizabeth II and the 16 realms "agreed to scrap outdated laws which ban the spouse of a Roman Catholic from taking the throne" or keep the daughter of the Duke and Duchess from becoming Queen (Bloxham, 2011). While this may strike some as a victory for equality, it is actually more of a symbolic victory than an actual victory, as it only directly affects a very small portion of England (the Royal portion). Meanwhile, inequality in labour continues to exist, and it is difficult to see how any legislation can change that, unless England totally changes its philosophical/economical outlook to that of Marxism, and theoretically puts everyone on the same playing field at the same pay rate (Weaver, 1984). Doing so has historical and cultural consequences, however, and the problem of "equality" as an ideal is thus brought once more to the forefront.

The pay gap, for instance between full-time male and female employees as of 2013 rested at 10%. Among skilled/trade workers, it reached nearly 25%. Men made a quarter more per year than women among skilled workers, and in the area of machine operators it was nearly the same (Bovill, 2014). Not only is the hourly gap large enough to notice but the annual gap is even larger, the reason being that men on average work longer shifts/more overtime than women. Statistics like these reveal a fundamental difference in the way workers are compensated: men, statistically speaking, spend more time in the workforce, and are more "accepted" operating heavy machinery or practicing skilled labour. Among immigrant workers of Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent, one sees this statistic most fully, for it is here that the economic inactivity disparity between men and women is greatest, with 21.2% of Pakistani men economically inactive in the UK compared to 61.3% of Pakistani women, and 14% of Bangladeshi men inactive compared to 61.9% of Bangladeshi women. These numbers may point to a cultural outlook that emphasizes gender role differences rather than gender equality. All the way across the board of ethnicities, the percentage of women who are economically inactive outnumbers the percentage of men (Labour Force Survey, 2015). This suggests that there is more than the workings of a legislative process going on in the way that men and women approach their societal roles. It may just be that women naturally, generally speaking, are more comfortable relying on their male counterpart to support the family, whereas men are more comfortable assuming the role of provider. If such is possibly the case, as Fillingham (2000) reported in his study on sex differences, the question arises as to whether or not legislative action geared towards eliminating inequality in the workforce is really the best option for UK's government. Eliminating such differences might create a social and psychological imbalance much more considerable than that of primogeniture. It might be striking at the very heart of the way men and women think of themselves.

A case study of the disadvantages of instigating legislation to curb inequality can be found in the case of men and women and hierarchical positions in religious organizations. The Catholic Church, for instance, has always been a patriarchal organization. England's history with the Church is divided between serving it and antagonizing it. The Harriet Harman Equality Bill of 2010 proposed making it "illegal" for the Roman Catholic Church to "ban" women from becoming priests in England (Hennessy, 2010). Employment in the Church is a fine line between private, faith-based organization and public labour (as such faith-based organizations actually engage in the public trade of "shepherding" individuals) and therefore raises a question about how far into traditional movements English legislature should pry. It is not the first time the English government has opposed Church rule: Henry VIII did it on a tremendous scale when he appointed himself head of the Anglican Church. The Harman Bill follows in the same tradition, opposing the foreign rule of the Roman Church and placing English workplace "equality" above the Church's emphasis on gender disparity. One disadvantage of such a move is that it risks provoking England's substantial Catholic population. If equality is meant to be fair for everyone, how is it that it makes certain groups like Catholics feel as though they are being threatened for holding ideals which are different from those in government? The fact is that equality in the workplace as an ideal is hardly as supported by either statistics or fundamental gender role beliefs as legislators like Harriet Harman purport.

Even though laws like the repeal of the Succession Act from 1701 show an advantage to women descendants heretofore denied them, such legislation is limited in scope: it does not upset an entire culture or organization but rather only a way of passing down authority. The Harman Bill, however, deeply affects the way Catholic individuals identify themselves. Religious persecution swept through Europe at the end of the Medieval Age and resulted in wars and destruction of societies. By adopting a bill that gives individuals a feeling of persecution, Parliament risks re-igniting old religious wars for the sake of workplace equality. Such is surely a disadvantage and one which ways more considerably on the question of workplace equality through legislation than the perceived advantages do. In theory, the advantage of legislation to curb inequality is that it closes the pay gap and the opportunity gap between men and women, majorities and minorities in the workplace. In reality, there is no indication that this means that those who were paid less will now be paid more. In fact, Bambra and Pope (2007) have shown that anti-discriminatory legislation actually has a negative effect on the workplace environment and is not a "useful public policy tool" for eradicating inequality. What it risks doing is lowering the pay rate for all: so those who received a higher pay rate for their labour will now receive a pay rate that is lower so that there is no disparity between theirs and other workers. In other words, for the sake of ending discrimination, legislation actually embarks on discrimination (discriminating against males/majorities,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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