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Should socio-economic background be a protected characteristic?

Makbool Javaid, Partner - Simons Muirhead & Burton

In a report called ‘Navigating the labyrinth’, The Social Mobility Commission has called on the government to make socio-economic background a protected characteristic in law after a damning report on class in the civil service.

The report found that only 18% of senior civil servants came from a lower socio-economic background, and that the rank composition of civil servants has changed little since 1967. “Civil servants from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly under-represented in the organisation and even if they do ‘get in’ they can struggle to ‘get on’,” said Steven Cooper, interim Co-Chair of the Social Mobility Commission.

The Equality Act 2010 does not currently include class or social background among the nine properties that protect individuals from discrimination. Women from a lower socio-economic background were more likely than their male colleagues to think their background would hamper their progression.

The Social Mobility Commission believe the action plan that this process has generated, while made for the Civil Service, offers many tangible steps that all employers can apply as they seek to tackle socio-economic barriers to progression. There is no ‘silver bullet’ to solving diversity and inclusion, and that shines through in the Social Mobility Commission’s multi-step plan. Employers should embrace a layered approach to drive change.

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