Britain in danger of becoming a two-speed society

Published: 25 Oct 2018

Britain is in danger of becoming a two-speed society, with some groups excluded from prosperity and rights enjoyed by others.

Britain’s most at-risk groups of people are in danger of being forgotten and becoming trapped in disadvantage, Britain’s equality body is warning in our comprehensive report on the state of equality and human rights in Britain.

We found that progress made in some areas is overshadowed by alarming backward steps.

Prospects for disabled people, some ethnic minorities, and children from poorer backgrounds have worsened in many areas of life. This inequality risks becoming entrenched for generations to come, creating a two-speed society where these groups are left behind in the journey towards a fair and equal country.

The report also reveals a downturn in access to justice and the conditions experienced by people in detention since the last review in 2015.

Is Britain Fairer? 2018 is the biggest evaluation of progress on equality and human rights in Great Britain, covering six areas of life:

  • education
  • health
  • living standards
  • justice and personal security
  • work
  • participation in politics, public and community life

As the last review before the UK leaves the EU, and with nearly a decade of data to reflect on, this assessment provides a baseline to measure progress on equality and human rights after Brexit.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'Britain is facing a defining moment in the pursuit of equality. We’ve seen some significant areas of progress, particularly in the improvement of opportunities in education and at work, as well as the fact that more people are now engaging in politics. However, in an already divided nation, some unacceptable gaps continue to grow. Across many areas in life, the losers struggle to make headway in a society where significant barriers still remain. They are the forgotten and the left behind and unless we take action, it will be at least a generation before we put things right.

'The reality of Brexit will be with us early next year and our review provides a benchmark against which to measure the impact of leaving the EU on equality and human rights. Brexit presents a real opportunity to discuss and define the type of country we want to be. We are committed to standing up for justice, freedom and compassion; traits which define our country and should be our guiding principles in our changing world. If everyone has a fair chance in life, our society thrives.'

Important findings in the report include:


There have been improvements in education, political participation and work. More children are now performing to the required standards at school. More people from ethnic minorities are obtaining degree-level qualifications and more people from disadvantaged areas are attending university. There are more women, black people and Pakistani people in employment and more people – including women – in higher pay occupations. New regulations have forced transparency about the gender pay gap, which is now decreasing. People are also getting more involved in politics and voting. More people are online, where increasingly services are provided digitally. Online activity is increasing most for disabled and older people who have previously been more excluded.

Disabled people

Disabled people however are finding themselves increasingly excluded from mainstream society, starting in education and continuing later in life. The disability pay gap persists and the likelihood of disabled people being in low-pay occupations has increased. Disabled people are more likely to be in poverty, they face poorer health and a lack of access to suitable housing. There has been a sharp increase in recorded disability hate crimes and disabled people experience high rates of domestic abuse and sexual assault in England and Wales.

Ethnic minorities

People from certain ethnic minorities, such as Indian people, have continued to succeed in education and at work. But Black African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani people are still the most likely to live in poverty and along with Black Caribbean people are more likely to experience severe deprivation, which is damaging their health and education and work prospects. Some ethnic minorities have poorer access to healthcare and higher rates of infant mortality, and black people have low trust in the criminal justice system. Gypsies, Roma and Travellers face multiple disadvantages including achieving below-average school results, experiencing difficulties accessing healthcare, worse health, and often have low standards of housing.

Living standards

Child poverty has increased and infant mortality has risen for the first time in decades. Tax and welfare reforms continue to disproportionately impact the poorest in society, as well as some ethnic minorities, women and disabled people and they weaken the safety net for those unable to work or stuck in low-paid or precarious work. Homelessness is also on the rise. Despite improvements in school attainment for most children, those from lower income backgrounds and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children are getting below-average school exam results and are more likely to be excluded from school, and poorer young people are less likely to go to university.

Women's equality

While women’s equality has progressed significantly in some ways, there are still many factors holding women back at work, some stemming from gender stereotypes at school. Bullying and sexual harassment are widespread in the workplace and in education. Sexual and domestic violence is a persistent and growing concern which disproportionately affects women and girls.

Justice and personal security

We have seen a marked backwards move in justice and personal security since the improvements we found in our 2015 review. Reductions in legal aid and changes to the legal system have led to individuals not being able to access justice. There has also been a deterioration in detention conditions, with more incidents of self-harm and assaults and with overcrowding in prisons risking prisoner safety.

Is Britain Fairer? makes a number of recommendations to governments and other organisations to tackle the issues identified in the report and support increased equality in Great Britain. The findings will also inform our programme of work for the next three years, which we will consult on next week.

Read the full report

Press contact details

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on:

0161 829 8102