Wide gaps in social justice, comparison finds Britain only in the middle rankings
By ECM Plus staff
ECM Plus +++ Great Britain still has some catching up to do in terms of social justice, according to new research just published by the Bertelsmann Stiftung.
According to the study, among a total of 31 OECD nations, Britain occupies 15th place, in the middle of the ranking.
The study examined these political indicators: poverty prevention, access to education, labor market inclusion, social cohesion and nondiscrimination, health, and justice between generations. Leading the Social Justice Index are the northern European countries Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Turkey ranks last.
One of the greatest challenges for Great Britain lies in making substantial strides toward greater social justice without burdening future generations with the costs of the economic crisis. Its national debt now amounts to nearly 90 percent of GDP (22nd place). Great Britain falls short on the weighted index particularly in the key areas of poverty prevention (19th place), education (21st place), and labor market inclusion (15th place). “About one in nine Britons now lives below the poverty line; educational opportunities for children depend considerably on their social background; and the recent increase in unemployment means too many young people have poor prospects in the labor market,” said Aart de Geus, a member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, as the study was released. However, he noted, the international comparison clearly demonstrates that social justice and market-economy performance are by no means mutually exclusive. The Nordic countries, in particular, offer evidence of this.
Income poverty is a widespread problem in the OECD member states. Particularly worrisome from the standpoint of social justice is the phenomenon of child poverty. In Great Britain, approximately 13.2 percent of children live below the poverty line. Despite significant political efforts to combat poverty in recent years, this figure still ranks above the OECD average (12.3 percent). Where children live in poverty, the fundamental prerequisites of social justice are lacking; social participation and self-determined living are barely possible under those conditions. By way of comparison: In Denmark, which along with Finland and Norway posted the lowest rates of child poverty in the OECD-wide comparison, only 3.7 percent of children are poor. The figures are dramatically different in the USA, where the rate is 21.6 percent (28th place). Only Turkey, Chile and Mexico score worse. Preventing child poverty depends not least on stronger efforts to balance work and family life. Measures such as expanding options for childcare, for example, can broaden the parents’ income base. In this regard, Great Britain has made considerable progress in recent years.
According to the study, the British educational system also has shortcomings from the standpoint of social justice. Here, the OECD study ranks the United Kingdom in 21st place, only in the lower middle range. The educational achievement of children and young people shows a correlation with their socioeconomic backgrounds. The average performance gap between students with socioeconomic advantages and students from weaker social environments is considerable; it amounts to a full year of schooling (44 points on the PISA scale). One important instrument for countering such trends and ensuring equal opportunity and upward social mobility from the start is early childhood education. However, the OECD study shows public investment in this important area in Great Britain still far below its potential.
As in most other OECD nations, the economic crisis has ‘battered’ the British labour market and heightened society’s awareness of social justice issues.
Unemployment in Ireland has soared to a drastic 13.7 percent, in Britain, it still amounts to some 8 percent, according to official figures.
But from the standpoint of social justice, there are certainly ‘dark sides’, the study revealed. Young people in particular have a very difficult time finding work. In all, a good 19 percent of young people in Great Britain are unemployed – a figure (18th place in the OECD study) that weighs heavily on the goal of social participation and opportunity.
Shortcomings also exist in the area of social cohesion. The OECD study ranks Britain among the countries with a particularly high level of earnings inequality. Despite political efforts to combat inequality, the trend has actually worsened from the mid-1990s to the present. In regard to social cohesion, such a tendency toward polarization is worrisome. Only Chile, Mexico, Turkey, the USA and Portugal show even greater disparities in the distribution of income. On the other hand, Britain has high legal standards when it comes to equal treatment and antidiscrimination.
The country also receives relatively good marks for its environmental policy and its family policy of recent years, as well as for pension policies that are relatively sustainable from a fiscal standpoint. For the dimension of justice between generations, there is definitely room to improve public expenditures for research and development (20th place), which are crucial factors in determining a country’s innovative capacity and hence also its future prosperity.
The study made no referebce to social justice for disabled people.