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1 What’s fair? The public’s view 10th October 2009 Penny Young Chief Executive National Centre for Social Research.

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Presentation on theme: "1 What’s fair? The public’s view 10th October 2009 Penny Young Chief Executive National Centre for Social Research."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 What’s fair? The public’s view 10th October 2009 Penny Young Chief Executive National Centre for Social Research

2 2 Today’s session To offer the public perspective on: What would a “fair” society look like? How does society match up against this ideal? What principles do people use when thinking about fairness? Drawing on: British Social Attitudes 2009 Joseph Rowntree Foundation /Fabian Society Equality and Human Rights Commission/NatCen

3 3 What would a fair society look like?

4 4 The importance of equality of opportunity “In a fair society, every person should have an equal opportunity to get ahead” 94% agree Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

5 5 What shape should society be? Elite at the top, few in the middle, great mass of people at the bottom A pyramid: a small elite at the top, more in the middle, most at the bottom A pyramid, except that just a few are at the bottom Most people in the middle Many near the top and only a few near the bottom 1%7%16%58%15% Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

6 6 Is society fair?

7 7 What shape is our society? 14%39%20% 3% 1%7%16%58%15% Should be… Is… Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

8 8 Opportunities and outcomes 72% agree Outcome. “Differences in income in Britain are too large" 79% agree Opportunity. “Children from better-off families have many more opportunities than children from less well-off families” Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

9 9 Pay differentials are considered too high…. Is paid?Should be paid…. Unskilled factory worker 13K16K Chairman of large company 200K100K Ratio of chairman to factory worker 15 x6 x Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

10 10 …and believed to be widening Ratio of chairman’s pay to factory worker Is…. 10x12.5x15x Should be… 5x6x Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

11 So: People want equality of opportunity A society in which most people are “in the middle” And they think we’re a long way short of this. ……….Or do they?

12 12 People aren’t in favour of government tackling income inequality head on 72% agree “Differences in income in Britain are too large” Yet…. 35% agree “Government should redistribute income from the better off to those who are less well off” (A figure that has fallen steadily since the beginning of the 1990s) Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

13 13 People think society is a pyramid….but most place themselves in the middle Middle 51% Upper half 18% Top 2% Lower half 22% Bottom 4% Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

14 14 People say opportunity is important – but so is individual responsibility % agreeing factor is essential or very important for getting ahead in life…… Hard work 84% say Ambition 71% say Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

15 15 There is much less emphasis on privilege % agreeing factor is essential or very important for getting ahead in life…… Wealthy family 12% say Well educated parents 30% say Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

16 16 And no emphasis on questions of identity % agreeing factor is essential or very important for getting ahead in life…… Ethnicity 7% say Religion 8% say Gender 7% say Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

17 17 (Comparable with the importance of ambition – less important than hard work) Although note that education is seen as very important “Education is essential or very important for getting ahead in life” 73% Source: British Social Attitudes Survey/NatCen 2009

18 So: People believe society to be unequal both in opportunity and outcome At the same time, they think hard work and ambition, coupled with education, outweigh privilege And people do not appear to favour ‘redistribution’ – although this is an over simplistic interpretation

19 19 What’s really driving attitudes to fairness? What explains some of the apparent contradictions?

20 20 There’s a tendency to explain away inequalities… Fabian Society work has found: Tendency to justify the virtues of those with high incomes –ability, performance, contribution to society. Although some questioning following financial crisis Source: Fabian Society: Is Equality Fair? 2009

21 21 And an initial tendency to negative attitudes towards the less well off “There is enough opportunity for virtually everyone to get on in life if they really want to. It comes down to the individual and how much you are motivated” 69% agree 25% agree “Most people who receive benefits now will make a contribution back to society in the future, through activities like employment or caring for others” Although, painting a picture of what life is really like for the less well off can make a difference Source: Fabian Society: Is Equality Fair? 2009

22 22 Ambivalence about how fairness works:  Common view that Britain is largely fair - certainly compared with many other countries.  Things like the NHS cited as examples of Britain’s essential fairness.  But for some, a view that Britain is unfair in particular ways - particularly in areas such as immigration, the benefit system.  And hence – for some - ‘too fair’. Source: Building Understanding of Fairness, Equality and Good Relations EHRC/NatCen – Not yet published

23 23 In conclusion: drawing together themes

24 24 Key themes There are real concerns about inequalities in our society, and perceptions of widening income inequality But at the same time, a tendency to believe that individuals can overcome these inequalities And a tendency to justify inequalities with a notion of deserved inequalities There is a perceived role for government in reducing inequality, but some disquiet among some about the realities of this.

25 25 Some challenges? Developing a commonly accepted set principles about ‘what’s fair’ Getting beyond the surface view – the tendency to explain away inequalities Understanding the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable inequality A final thought: “I start from the premise that life isn’t fair” (Woman, 65+, England - EHRC/NatCen)

26 26 Thank you


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