Can we now classify the underclass as an oppressed minority?
26 June, 2008
Harriet Harman is setting out the governments plans to tackle descrimination. I think the moves to promote greater transparency over pay are a step forward. Personally I would like to go further and be able to look up anyones income on the HMRC website as I think this would help not only with the gender pay gap but also the wider debate about inequality. I think the ban on age discrimination is great and indeed timely as society isn’t getting any younger. However I’m not convinced about furthering the application of “positive” discrimination.
For a start I don’t view discrimination as positive but more importantly the changing nature of British society has altered the reality of discrimination. Take this fictional case of two young doctors as an example.
Riya Kumar is a British Asian women. Her parents arrived from India in the early seventies to set up a take away. Business went well and developed into a fairly large chain of Indian restrauants. Her parents were able to put Riya through private school where her best friend’s father was a doctor. Dr Barnett loved a curry in the family restrauant and over the years got to know the Kumar’s pretty well. For some reason Riya found his gory tales of surgery inspiring and decided to go to medical school. Her parents were always supportive and covered her financially so she managed to leave with no debts despite not having to work to support herself as a student.
Derek Tipton is a White male and had an all together different different upbringing from Riya. Derek’s father was an abusive alcoholic who was in and out of work for the eight years that his mother absorbed the beatings before going to a refuge. Derek was one of three kids and there was no way that his unskilled mother could get a job which payed well enough to cover the child care so she had to stay at home in Birmingham on benefits. His Mum couldn’t afford for them to go out much so he watched a lot of telly as a kid. Casualty was a favourite and inspired his love of medicine. Fortunately Derek was a bright lad and even though his local comp was a bit of hole he managed to get to medical school, the only person from his school in living memory. His mum couldn’t afford to help him with the costs so he had to take two extra jobs and still left with a mountain of debt.
The first time Riya and Derek meet is when they are going for an interview for a crucial first job at a teaching hospital in London. Both have glowing references from their tutors and good exam results. Dr Barnett is doing the interview as the post means working for him. He asks all the candidates the same questions and they were all decent answers despite finding Derek’s Brummie accent something of an ordeal. He’d last been to Birmingham in 1976 to see a Rolling Stones gig and liked it so much he never went back.
So from a social justice point of view who should get the job?
The point is 50 years ago power and wealth was largely in the hands of a small number of white men. Today that still holds to an extent but the picture is more diffuse. We have seen successive waves of immigration to the UK, some groups have been more successful than others and some are very wealthy indeed. Britain’s richest person Lakshmi Mittal is Indian for instance. As a socialist my instinct is to be on the side of those without power and wealth be they from the ethnic minorities, be they women or poor white men.
The reality is people from the ethnic minorities do face discrimination. Thankfully it isn’t as widespread or deep rooted as say 30-40 years ago and some groups face greater discrimination than others. With greater economic inequality, wealth or the lack of is causing discrimination against the underclass from whatever ethnic group and that needs to be tackled just as vigorously. They realise the government has presided over growing inequality which is why Labour support from the 2001 general election to the 2005 one saw Labour support rise slightly amongst the AB’s and a much more significant fall amongst the DE social classes. Labour should stand for justice for all not just for some.