Discuss the view that all legal approaches to reducing inequalities are fundamentally flawed. In today's society it is assumed that everyone has the right to equal opportunities. These equal opportunities include equal access to public services, to job opportunities and income, the freedom of access and movement, the right to be free from harassment and equal access to means of determining equal access, in other words who gets what, who is excluded and who is not, basically the right to vote.
It can be hard to determine what equal is, does it mean we all get the same treatment or at least we should do or is equality associated more with what matches our needs? It's a difficult question to answer, as we have to then delve into who decides our needs for us. Who is equality for? Ideally everyone. Most equality issues deal with the same sets of people, those who are disadvantaged in some way in society, whether individually or collectively as a group.
Some disadvantaged groups are, Black and minority ethnic groups, young males, women, gay and lesbian people, faith groups, older people and those with disabilities. Different equality issues arise within these different groups and so not all experiences of inequality are the same, some may fit into more than one group and so have more inequality to deal with. One of the main methods for attaining equality is via the law. Most equal opportunity acts or policies focus on three main areas of inequality, they are, gender, disability and racial equality.
I intend to focus on these three areas, looking at the laws and policies in place and whether or not all these legal approaches to reducing inequality are successful or fundamentally flawed. Gender inequality goes back centuries but was never really recognised in law until the Equal Pay Act of 1970. Until this time, women had suffered a great disadvantage in the work place. In the 19th century women were excluded from certain areas of work, it was not acceptable for a woman to do certain jobs, especially in the labour market.
In the 20th century politics focused more on women, giving them more political and civil rights, women were given the right to vote, although most voted as their husbands did, whether they wanted to or not. Domestic violence was recognised also and men beating and mistreating their wives has become taboo, it's no longer a man's place to keep his woman in line, she has rights now and so can look after herself a lot better. After the Second World War women began to occupy more of what were once male dominated jobs, with all the men at war, there was no other choice than to allow women into the labour market.
Once they had established their place in the work force there was little any one could do to stop the increase in women at work, however, women may have been allowed to do a 'mans' job but they did not receive a mans wage, and so inequality still lived on. In 1970, The Equal Pay Act attempted to amend this by giving employers a five year adjustment period in which to amend wages in line with the equal pay specifications of the act. The act was not enforced until 1975 and although the gap between male and female income narrowed, men still remain better paid.
In the same year, 1975, the Sex discrimination act was passed and discrimination was put into two new categories, direct and indirect. The act tackled a range of issues including harassment. Although the legislation put into motion many positive changes, discrimination on the basis of gender cannot be totally combated, attitudes still remain and these take time to change, women may be able to work in male dominated jobs and have access, although not always, to the same opportunities but there is still quite a way until things are 'equal'.
Jeanne Gregory (1987: 52-53) calls the provisions made in British sex discrimination legislation "little more than a good will gesture… within which people and organisations already committed to the fight against discrimination can develop programmes for action". Disabled people have also experienced inequality in society for centuries; sometimes people's attitudes have totally dismissed the rights of disabled people, at times to the point at which individuals have decided that those with disabilities are abnormal or a burden on society's resources.
As far back as medieval Germany, disabled people were experiencing these unfair attitudes. It was in medieval Germany that Martin Luther permitted the killing of disabled babies as 'incarnations of the devil'. Centuries later, Hitler attempted to rid Germany of disabled people under his fascist regime; according to him they were 'imperfections which contaminate the genetic stream'. Although society has moved on, we cannot stop these kinds of opinions. One of the most important pieces of disability legislation is the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
The act covered physical disabilities, learning difficulties and mental illness. Today, a lot of institutions have been made to make changes in order to accommodate disabled people, disabled toilets, ramps for disabled access, special computer programmes for the blind, deaf, dyslexic, etc. However, not all institutes can afford to make changes unless given government help. Others simply choose not too. Edge hill has a water tight equal opportunities policy and yet they put disabled parking outside a building which cannot be accessed by a wheelchair.
Sometimes, amendments are overlooked or put off until a much later date. Racial equality is an area that has seen a lot of change over the years. Thousands after thousands have been discriminated against year after year as a result of their race. As with disability, racial discrimination has also been an issue that has been pushed to the limit. Again, Hitler, who saw any race other than his 'ideal' one as inferior ordered the deaths of millions of Jewish people during the Second World War. Their deaths were the result of discrimination in its severest form.
Not only did Hitler order the killing of the Jews in Nazi Germany, but before killing them he took away all of their rights and ostracised them from everyday German life. This is an extreme example of inequality. Britain has been working on its race relation policies for over four decades. The 1965 Race Relations Act established the race relation board and included the intention of official intervention in racial discrimination. Three years later the 1968 Race relations act included variations on discrimination.
The 1976 Race relations act was however the first racial discrimination legislation to recognise indirect discrimination, this act also gave powers of investigation and allowed a limited amount of intervention. This act remained the main legislation until it was amended in 2000. The Race Relations Amendment Act 2000 set up duties to be carried out by public services and institutions in promoting race equality. The Act aims to work toward eliminating discrimination, promoting equality of opportunity and also promoting good race relations.
The act includes the duty of all public service bodies to have a race equality policy set up. Larger, more important public service providers such as local authorities and government ministries should have a race equality scheme set up which details how they will fulfil their general duty. The Race Relations amendment act 2000 has been the most important legislation in combating racial inequality in Britain to date. Other legislation to tackle inequality includes the human rights act which came into full force three years ago, October 2000.
The act was derived from the European convention on human rights and basically says that these rights should be written into British law where applicable. Article 9 says we have freedom of thought, conscience and religion and Article 10 says we are entitled to freedom of expression. So, does this mean we have the right to think what we like, believe what we like and say what we like about certain things? Put simply, no. Because, Article 14 prohibits discrimination. However, how do you stop someone from discriminating against another group?
You can't; discrimination comes in many forms and may not always be proved. Certain individuals will always discriminate. Article 13 came out of the treaty of Amsterdam and includes three measures to combat discrimination, an employment directive, a race directive and an action programme. Article 13 created statutory commissions involving full investigation, codes of practice, guidance and support at tribunals. This is one of the most significant pieces of legislation; however, it cannot be monitored properly. What people say they will do and what they actually do are often two very different things.
Some argue that Britain needs just one single equality act. Lord Lester (2001) believes one single act is needed. But, will having one single act make inequality disappear? No. The law may be able to punish those who step out of line but it cannot change people's attitudes. In fact as far as punishment goes, there is no imprisonment for those not following equality legislation, so how can it truly be enforced? Society is too complex, people are rigid in the way they work, and change takes time. Some don't believe in equality, after all, inequality can be seen as a natural occurrence.
Since time began, someone or something has always been inferior/superior. Laws and policies can only try to control inequality but they will never combat it, it has existed throughout time and will continue to do so.
Bacchi, Carol Lee (1999) Women, policy and politics. London. Sage. Coleridge, Peter (1993) Disability. Liberation and Development. Oxford. Oxfam publications. Goodman, Alissa. Johnson, Paul and Webb, Steven (1997) Inequality in the UK. Oxford. Oxford university Press. Gregory, Jeanne (1987) Sex, race and the law: Legislating for equality. London. Sage.