Campaign to level up

Ella Rhodes reports on The British Psychological Society's Senate-voted theme for 2022.

The British Psychological Society’s Senate has voted take on a campaign which will aim to tackle social and class-based inequalities. Put forward by the Psychology of Women and Equalities, Community Psychology and Social Psychology sections of the BPS, the campaign will look at ways social class could be included as a protected characteristic in the UK Equality Act.  

Each year the BPS Senate, formed of chairs of the society’s board of trustees and the chairs of its branches, divisions, sections and special groups, are presented with a choice of three policy themes to focus on for the upcoming year. Last year’s campaign From Poverty to Flourishing, ran for two years in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic (see our special summer 2021 edition).

This year, the sections argued, a campaign to tackle social and class-based inequalities was timely. The 2021 Queen’s Speech highlighted a need to ‘level up’ opportunities across social classes and evidence has shown the role of social class in exacerbating the effects of the pandemic – including on infection rates, illness and deaths.

‘The disjoint between policymakers blaming people, primarily in low-income areas, for not following social distancing and self-isolation rules, and evidence showing that a lack of economic support constrains the ability to adhere to such rules… shows policy lags research,’ the proposal’s authors wrote. They also pointed out that the Equality Act 2010, which protects characteristics including sex, race and disability, does not provide the same protection for social class or socioeconomic status – potentially leading to discrimination.

They wrote that companies may still not employ a person due to a regional accent or school background, councils and health authorities can give more money and healthcare resources to certain areas, and teachers may be biased against children due to their socio-economic status. ‘All of these practices are legitimated within the current law and legislation. In addition, reporting of class-based inequalities, such as education gaps, health care gaps, and pay gaps is not mandatory. Therefore, organisations and institutions are not motivated to collect data or implement training and recruitment practices that acknowledge social class-based discrimination, which inhibits the ability of working class people to legally challenge such discrimination.’

There is some psychological research which has explored the impact of class-based discrimination and its negative impacts. This evidence, the authors of the proposal suggested, could be used to argue for the inclusion of social class into the Equality Act. The campaign will aim to focus on four main areas, where there is evidence for revising the Equality Act to include social class – education, health and healthcare, business and industry, and communities and housing.

BPS President Katherine Carpenter said in a statement that the time for this campaign was now. ‘By including social class as a protected characteristic within the UK Equalities Act people are afforded the same legal protection as with other protected characteristics. This is an important step in eliminating those invisible barriers that get in the way of people achieving their potential. If we really want a country that is truly ‘levelled up’, eliminating the discrimination associated with social class is a great step forward.’

The campaign team will include many academics with working class backgrounds, and among other things plan to consider evidence of intersectionality in their work – or the extra pressures faced by working class people who are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and LGBT+ people. They have an aim to publish two position papers which will include a review of the psychological literature on class-based discrimination and recommendations on including class in the Equality Act. 

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