British Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series, second edition

by Robert Leach, Bill Coxall and Lynton Robins

Chapter 22 notes - Rights, Equality and Social Justice

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  • After the end of the Second World War a cross-party consensus accepted that government had a responsibility to reduce poverty and inequality.
  • This progressive consensus was increasingly challenged by New Right (or neo-liberal) analysis that suggested that welfare benefits encouraged a dependency culture that reduced incentives and harmed the poor they were supposed to help.
  • Under Conservative governments after 1979 top rate taxes were reduced and unemployment increased, leading to significantly wider inequality in income and wealth.
  • New Labour from 1997 sought to reduce poverty by encouraging a shift from welfare to work. It significantly reduced child poverty through a package of reforms and somewhat alleviated pensioner poverty, without tackling the growing pensions crisis. Overall it stemmed the increase in inequality but failed to reverse it significantly.
  • There has been less focus recently on reducing economic inequality, and more on remedying the discrimination and disadvantage suffered by particular categories or groups of people – women, gays, the disabled, ethnic and faith minorities. Monitoring and remedying their disadvantages is now the responsibility of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
  • There is continuing controversy around the theory and practice of multiculturalism.
  • Evidence of the social problems associated with a wider gulf between rich and poor has helped revive the case for more economic equality. However the post-recession economic climate may not help to reduce income inequality.