life chances

Making social reform work for disabled people

In her first speech as Prime Minister Theresa May set out her “mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone”. She spoke of helping those who are “just about managing” and promised that her Government will do “everything they can” to give people more control over their lives.

Here at Scope, we recognise the image of people who are “just about managing”. We know many people who want more control over their lives.

Life costs more if you’re disabled. On average disabled people spend £550 a month on disability-related outgoings. It makes making ends meet much harder.

Only around half of disabled people work, despite the vast majority wanting to work and hundreds of thousands of disabled people being ready to work and looking for a job right now.

There are still too many societal barriers getting in the way of disabled people living independent lives.

So we were pleased to partner with Bright Blue at Conservative Party Conference to host a discussion about how government can make the social reform the Prime Minister promises work for disabled people.

Action is needed in three key areas if we are to see greater opportunities for the 12.9 million disabled people in the UK:

Tackling the disability employment gap

The 2015 Conservative Manifesto included a welcome commitment to halve the disability employment gap, which has remained at around 30% for the last decade.  The upcoming Green Paper on disability, health and employment provides the Government with an opportunity to make this goal a reality. For a reduction in the disability employment gap to be sustainable, and meaningful, we need to ensure disabled people are not just getting into work, but that disabled people are able to stay in work too.

Disabled people tell us how important schemes such as Access to Work are for helping them maintain employment and stay in the workplace, but there is also a significant role for employers to play. Employers need to be flexible in their approach to supporting disabled employees and must work more closely with local health and care services, local disability organisations and skills providers to find and support the right disabled people for the jobs they create. Of course, many employers are doing great work already to recruit, retain and develop disabled staff but we still have a way to go until this becomes the norm.

Investing in care services that enable people to live independently

Many disabled people rely on social care to support them to live independently, yet according to recent NHS statistics only 34% of social care users have as much choice and control as they want over their lives. As the Government moves to further integrate health and social care systems to drive efficiencies particularly in the support provided to older people, it should also consider how public services for disabled people might be integrated to support working age disabled adults to participate in their communities, study or enter employment.

Tackling the extra costs that disabled people face

Many disabled people worry about the costs of living, and have to fork out for specialised equipment higher heating bills and replacing worn-out clothes that non-disabled people don’t have to afford. These extra costs undermine disabled people’s financial security, make it hard to save or build financial resilience. Disabled people have an average of £108,000 fewer savings and assets than non-disabled people.

Some businesses are already recognising that disabled people are consumers who are under-provided for in the market, and have developed tailored products that have the potential to drive down costs. We hope that many others will follow suit, and would like to see the Government intervening to encourage businesses to innovate.

Improving opportunity for disabled people is about social justice – and we are delighted that the Prime Minister recognises the important role government can play here. It’s also about creating a country equipped for 21st century challenges. Scope economic research has found that increasing disability employment will add billions to GDP by 2030. The Government has an opportunity to improve the lives of disabled people, make her social justice agenda a reality and boost the UK economy at the same time. We hope she takes it.

Anna Bird is Director of Policy and Research at Scope



Independent visitors are the key to improving outcomes for children in care

“She made me forget about being in care and brought me up on my down days”, anon, care leaver

Young people tell us one of the hardest things about growing up in care is forming lasting relationships.

Children in care don’t have their birth parents to rely on. What’s less well understood is that they also often miss out on other vital relationships too, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and family friends.

Added to this, young people in care may have experienced trauma, abuse and neglect. This can make forming positive relationships with others especially hard and relationships with foster carers, social workers and other adults in positions of authority can become strained.

Sometimes, children in care are moved from different foster placements, or care homes, and social workers, teachers and even schools, may change frequently. For some children, the only adults in their life are the ones who are paid to be there.

The role of the independent visitor was introduced as a statutory service, which all children in care are legally entitled to, in the Children Act 1989. An independent visitor is a volunteer who provides the role of a mentor, friend, someone to confide in, and have fun with, away from the care system. Independent visitors can act as a stabilising force. They stay involved in a child’s life for a minimum of two years, meeting at least once a month, taking part in fun activities like going to the cinema.

Children are matched with volunteers who share their interests, and can help them to develop.

Take Solomon, who loves performing arts, and is now going to study music and song-writing at the Academy of Contemporary Music. Solomon was matched with his mentor Drew over three years ago, and together they’ve seen many plays, including a modern adaptation of Macbeth and West Side Story.

Solomon explains why Drew is so important to him;

“When we meet we’ll talk about our social lives. I know I can confide in Drew with any issues that I might have and he’ll do his best to understand and talk about his own experiences. It’s mostly about acting and performing, and he’s very motivating. I can unload about a lot of things.”

However, despite success stories like Solomon, Barnardo’s research found 97% of children in care are still missing out on an independent visitor. In some cases it’s not appropriate to match a child with an independent visitor, or the child may not want one.  However, we know that more children in care would benefit from this invaluable relationship.

Over two thirds of local authorities have a waiting list, with over 1,000 children in England waiting to be matched. Worse still, eight local authorities don’t even offer children the service.

The main reason why children miss out on independent visitors is limited resources. Our research revealed that most local authorities allocate around £20,000 - £40,000, which is also often shared with other services such as advocacy.

Low awareness is another key factor; professionals, children in care, and members of the public who might volunteer, don’t know the service exists. The Children’s Rights Director reported in 2012 that 80% of children who didn’t have an independent visitor said this was because they were never offered one.

To make sure children don’t miss out, we’re calling on government, local authorities and voluntary sector organisations to sign up to a new set of quality standards. The standards aim to ensure all looked after children understand their right to an independent visitor; services are designed to suit the needs and views of the child; and processes are in place to recruit, train and match volunteers with the right children to ensure a long-term positive relationships are built.

In the new Care Leaver Strategy, the Government recognises the difference an independent visitor can make, and highlights the importance of maintaining the relationship with an independent visitor after leaving care. We would like to see the Department for Education endorse our standards.

In May, former Prime Minister, David Cameron wrote in the Sunday Times that children growing up in care had been “let down for too long”, and said the government would “bust a gut” to help them build a brighter future.  Improving outcomes for children in care is extremely challenging. Our research shows that volunteer-led befriending plays a crucial but often over looked role. 

We hope that our new Prime Minister, Theresa May, will now “bust a gut” to make sure all children in care have the opportunity to access an independent visitor, which they are legally entitled to.

Alex Gordon is team manager of the National Independent Visitor Network at Barnardo’s

The gender pay gap – trimming branches or tackling at root?

Theresa May stood outside Downing Street in July and listed a series of “burning injustice(s)” she pledged her Government would fight. The listed included the fact that “if you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man.” 

Less than six weeks later the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ report into the gender wage gap has underlined the challenge our new Prime Minister faces.  On average women in paid work receive about 18% less per hour than men.

It shows the key reason is more women than men work part-time or flexibly – because they are disproportionately responsible for unpaid caring and need to combine their responsibilities at work and home.  This needs to be addressed.  But I’ll get to that.

These part-time options are less well paid with fewer opportunities for career progression than full-time work.  Only 8.7% of quality job vacancies (those that pay over £20,000 full time equivalent or more) are advertised as being open to some kind of flexibility – compared with 20.2% among lower paid jobs. 

So women often find themselves trapped in low paid work where they are unable to progress.  They stay because they are afraid that they won’t find working arrangements that suit their childcare pattern elsewhere.  These fears aren’t unfounded - quality part-time and flexible jobs are few and far between.  So the gender pay gap persists.

Often the twin challenge of finding affordable, available childcare (which couples tend to assume should be deducted from women’s salaries) and reasonably well-paid, part-time and flexible employment is insurmountable – and women leave employment.  Clearly when they return they will have missed out on any interim wage growth and opportunities to upskill – so the gender pay gap persists.

Childcare can be a deciding factor in terms of women continuing in employment after children are born.  But addressing this is only part of the picture.  Key is ensuring more quality part-time and flexible jobs – jobs with career and wage progression – in the UK labour market.  As well as reporting on pay we’d like to see employers reporting on the steps they have taken to embed flexible working in their organisations, including whether or not they have taken a ‘flexible by default’ approach to recruitment.  This would open up choice for women - and men - helping tackle that persistent gender pay gap. 

But what about women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caring?  While women’s choices are more limited the gender pay gap will surely remain.  The barriers to using shared parental leave – encouraging fathers to share care early on - must be tackled to make it a realistic option for new parents.  We disagree it should be extended to other groups like grandparents – before it starts working for fathers. 

If Theresa May is serious about achieving parental choice around shared care and reducing the gender pay gap, she might consider bringing in three months non-transferable paid leave for fathers.  Ideally this would be supported by the introduction of a free childcare hours allowance for children aged under two – to help bridge the gap between the end of maternity and parental leave in the first year of life and children starting school.  These kinds of game-changing policies would get to the root of the gender pay gap - helping eliminate it for good – and unlock the talent of women for the benefit of employers and the economy in post-Brexit Britain.

Sarah Jackson is CEO of Working Families - the UK’s leading work-life balance charity.  October 3-7 is National Work Life Week – find more information here.


The motherhood pay penalty

There was depressing news for working women this week. More than four decades after the Equal Pay Act, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that women are earning 18% less per hour than men on average.

The research showed that this pay gap increases markedly if women have children – growing year-on-year after childbirth and hitting 33% by the time the child is 12 – suggesting mums are missing out on pay rises and promotions in the workplace, and instead suffering from a motherhood pay penalty.

The IFS study echoes TUC findings from earlier this year. A report we published with the IPPR confirmed the existence of this motherhood pay penalty. While the IFS study rightly highlights the impact that working part-time can have on the pay gap, our report looked at women working full-time and showed that there is still a significant pay penalty for women who have returned to full-time work after having children, if they had them before the age of 33.

The TUC’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady has called this motherhood pay discrepancy a "scandal". All mothers should be supported and treated fairly in the workplace, regardless of the age at which they have their children, their seniority in the workplace or whether they work full or part-time. So, why is this still happening?

Our evidence suggests that despite talk about parents taking a more equal approach to childcare, too many women are still shouldering the load. Women remain the primary care-givers and they are still far more likely than men to reduce their working hours after having children. And, too often, women still face discrimination at work – and can struggle to get access to justice when they do.

A lack of well-paid, part-time or other flexible jobs and affordable childcare mean many women drop out of the workplace or reduce their hours until their children are at school, missing out on vital years of experience and earning potential.

What’s the answer? At the current snail’s pace rate we are going it’s going to take us decades to close the gender pay gap so we urgently need a step change in both government policy and employer attitudes to fix the problem.

Firstly, a good start would be support for more equal parenting roles to stop women being held back at work. Shared parental leave is a step in the right direction, but we know take up is very low due to lack of incentives for fathers to take the leave. The Government should introduce better paid ‘dads only’ leave that would encourage fathers to a more active role in parenting, which would benefit them and their children.

Secondly, free childcare provision from the end of maternity leave, rather than age three, would also help. More free childcare would help minimise the pay penalty for single mothers, who we know face significant barriers to paid work, especially when their children are very young. Single parents are still less than half as likely as couple parents to be in work when their children are under five. And free childcare from the end of maternity leave would help younger mothers with less seniority and lower pay to stay in work after having children.

And thirdly, much more must also be done to open up higher skilled, better paid jobs to flexible working or reduced hours. There are very few good quality job opportunities being advertised with flexible or part-time work options – just 6% of those advertised with a full-time equivalent of £19,500 or more. This would really help keep mums in the labour market and it would enable more women in part-time roles to continue to progress, rather than getting stuck in low-paid, part-time work after having children.

We’ve also got to see better enforcement of legislation against discrimination linked to pregnancy and childbirth. A recent EHRC survey on pregnancy discrimination found incredibly high levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, affecting 77% of mothers and forcing tens of thousands of women out of their jobs each year. Younger mothers are much more likely to report discrimination –  a fifth said they were dismissed or were treated so badly that they were forced out of their jobs because of pregnancy or maternity leave, compared to one in ten mothers overall.

And these women who experience pregnancy or maternity discrimination must have access to justice. It currently costs £1,200 to take a claim to tribunal, and even workers employed on the minimum wage have to pay these fees if a member of their household has savings of £3,000. Many mums would struggle to find this cash to spare, especially when a new baby has just arrived. The Government needs to abolish employment tribunal fees to ensure all women – and in fact all workers – are able to take a claim to enforce their basic rights at work.

Alice Hood is Head of Equality at TUC


We must tackle racial disparities in poverty

Participation in the labour market generally has an enormous impact on the ability of individuals and families to move out of poverty with problems around both access to and progression within work helping to explain the strikingly different poverty rates across ethnic groups. The rates for those defined as persistently poor between 2009 and 2012 were 14.1% for individuals of Black African heritage, 13.7% for those of Pakistani heritage and 5.1% for those from White groups.  

Some of this, especially for relatively new arrivals, can be traced to language issues - speaking English as a first language reduces the likelihood of being in persistent poverty by a substantial 5 percentage points. Weak English language skills are associated with the types of social and occupational segregation behind some groups’ disproportionate presence in work that is both poorly paid and which offers few prospects for progression. Pakistani and Bangladeshi men, for instance, are far more likely to be earning below the living wage.

However as the Women and Equalities select committee noted in its recent report on Muslim women, inequality, discrimination and Islamophobia also have a stark impact on people’s poverty risk.  Muslim women are 71% more likely than White Christian women to be unemployed, more likely than women from other groups to be asked about their marital status or family aspirations in job interviews, and their participation in the workplace is greatly affected by the disproportionate number of hate crime attacks perpetrated against them.    

For those at the start of their occupational careers, the likelihood that they will be able to escape low income adulthood is slim, and focussed government policy attention in both early years, through the extension of free childcare, but also in the transition between adolescence and adulthood, in reform to post-16 education is of the utmost importance.  Young people who begin their working lives in low paid work find it difficult to move beyond this while those who experience early unemployment can be faced with longer term periods without work.  The unemployment gap is high between ethnic groups – in 2014 young minority ethnic people had an unemployment rate of 28.6% compared with 15.5% for young white people.

This should be a cause of major concern. Earlier this month the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report Counting the Cost of UK Poverty in which we outlined the cost to the public purse of people being in poverty across a range of indicators including health, education and criminal justice.  Poverty costs us all financially – £69 billion in spending on public services, with an additional 9 billion in benefits spending and lost tax revenue.  The spend on education at approximately £10 billion, is a combination of the Pupil Premium and other targeted local authority work, and directly addresses support for children from low income families.  Investment of this kind is showing results with BME school attainment on an upward trajectory, but unless more is done to smooth young people’s transitions into the world of work their poverty risk will remain high, with the broader cost of the harms caused by such inequalities difficult to express in financial terms.  

Strategies to support transitions for poorer young people should include the provision of good quality careers advice, together with access to good quality apprenticeships and more effective widening participation activity from universities to address the woefully low representation of poorer young people across the higher education sector.  These areas however require reform – high quality careers advice is patchy, and while the emerging Apprenticeships Levy may assist in incentivising employers to provide better quality apprenticeships, access for minority ethnic young people is low – 26% of those applying for apprenticeships are from minority ethnic backgrounds but only 9.5% are successful.   

The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, has spoken of the clear inequalities that exist in the UK which can impact on life chances, employability and quality of life which suggests the possibility of renewed policy focus on early years, the criminal justice system and education among others.  These are all public policy areas in which those from poor and/or minority ethnic backgrounds experience ongoing difficulties and initiatives to address these will be welcome.

It is clear that the financial cost of poverty to society, in the form of lost earnings and increased spend on areas such as health and education, can be reduced with effective action to tackle its causes and the broader impact of particular inequalities, such as discrimination in recruitment processes exacerbates this.  These costs, while clearly tangible and measurable as we have shown, are also both moral and ethical and should contribute to our ‘collective shame’ – that within a prosperous society, the failure to support its most vulnerable members not only contributes to broader economic cost, but to social, material and psychological harm.

Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard is policy and research manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Is the university application system biased?

A number of researchers have argued that there is evidence of bias against Black, minority and ethnic (BME) university applicants. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has repeatedly refuted these claims. But UCAS has, until very recently, refused to publish the full application data for researchers to examine. This blog examines the existing and latest evidence of whether there is bias against BME students applying for university.


Last September, UCAS published a short data release which they argued showed there was no systematic bias against BME applicants in the university application system. While the offer rate for BME applicants was 15 percentage points lower than for white applicants, UCAS argued that this was attributable, almost entirely, to differences in applicants’ predicted A-level grades. That is, a BME applicant predicted to achieve three A grades in their A-Level examinations is as likely to be offered a place at university as a white applicant predicted to achieve the same grades.

However, a number of researchers criticised the UCAS data release. Vikki Boliver, a senior lecturer at Durham University, suggested that the UCAS data was incomplete. Boliver observed that the UCAS data, released in September, excluded applicants to the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, excluded applicants to medicine and dentistry courses, and excluded applicants who were predicted to achieve three A* grades at A-Level. In addition, she criticised UCAS for amalgamating ethnic minorities into one, single group. She argued that some ethnic minority groups were more likely to experience bias than others, and that amalgamating the groups might conceal this.

Boliver pointed to her own research that shows that predicted grades only partially account for the lower offer rates for BME applicants. Indeed, her evidence suggests that the bias against BME applicants is greater when the applicant is applying to a course which has a large proportion of BME applicants. She argues that this suggests that admissions selectors may be rejecting some of their BME applicants to achieve a more ethnically representative student body.

Other evidence has supported Boliver’s findings. Academics from the London School of Economics and the University of Bristol analysed UCAS data from 2008. They controlled for a number of variables which sought to capture the academic quality of applicants, such as A-Level results and UCAS tariff score. They found that, when controlling for academic quality, BME applicants from almost every different group received significantly lower offer rates in all subject areas than white applicants; only mixed-race applicants obtained a similar offer rate to white applicants. This study also carried out a further analysis which controlled for social characteristics (social class background, gender and school type). When controlling for social characteristics, the researchers found that the lower offer rates persisted for all BME applicants except, again, mixed race applicants.

New data

Three weeks ago, after significant Government pressure, UCAS published a large swathe of application data broken down by ethnicity. Since then a number of analyses of the data have been published. It should be noted that these early analyses will almost certainly be surpassed by more robust academic evaluations in the coming months and years. Furthermore, as Mark Leach, a former advisor to the Shadow Minister for Universities & Science and editor of WonkHE, has stated, large releases of data can lead to information overload and create a risk of misinterpretation. We should be wary of this when considering these analyses.

However, the early analyses can still provide an interesting insight into the bias debate.  The data released by UCAS provides application and offer data at the institutional level. The data provides an ‘offer rate’ (the proportion of applicants who are offered a university place) which is broken down by sex, ethnicity and socio-economic background. The rate controls for predicted grades.

Across the whole sector, the data appears to show there is no statistically significant difference in offer rates between white applicants and all BME applicants. There are two significant caveats to this.

First, while UCAS argues that their method is the “most precise” they have, so far, refused to publish the underlying data which has allowed them to develop this method. Second, the Equality Challenge Unit have argued that small, non-statistically significant differences in offer rates can be projected into much greater differences in the graduate labour market and in postgraduate opportunities. To illustrate this, they offer an example from a different context, the promotion of women within US companies. Research shows that women receive less favourable evaluation of their work than men. This research suggests that the bias is between 1% and 5%. While this appears a small difference, computer simulation illustrates the larger effects this can have on the promotion of women over time. In a cohort of 500 people, a 5% bias in evaluation would lead to 29% of the highest-level staff (the most promoted) being women and 58% of the lowest level staff (the least promoted) being women. Similarly, a small bias against BME candidates may lead to considerable differences later on.

While the data shows no difference in offer rates across the sector, there appears to be evidence of some bias at an institutional level. WonkHE’s analysis has shown that 28 institutions had a significant gap in the ‘offer rate’ between Black (which is comprised of Black – Caribbean, Black – African, Black – other, Black or Black British – Caribbean, Black or Black British – African and applicants of other Black background) applicants and the average application rate, after controlling for predicted grade, in, at least, two of the last three years. Similarly, 25 institutions had a significant offer rate gap for Asian applicants (which is comprised of Asian – Indian, Asian or Asian British – Indian, Asian – Pakistani, Asian or Asian British – Pakistani, Asian – Bangladeshi, Asian or Asian British – Bangladeshi, Asian – Chinese, and applicants of other Asian background). In both cases, this represents around one fifth of higher education providers in the UK. Interestingly, particularly in regards to the offer rate gap for Asian applicants, many of the offending institutions are those with the most Asian applicants. This supports Boliver’s theory that admissions selectors may reject some of their BME applicants to achieve a more representative student body.


There has been a longstanding debate over whether there is bias in the university admissions system. UCAS has recently published a large quantity of data regarding offer rates and the ethnicity of applicants. Early interpretations of the data suggest that across the whole sector there is little evidence of bias against BME applicants. However, we should be cautious about over-interpreting these early analyses. Academics are likely to conduct more robust examinations of this data that may show different findings. At an institutional level, there is some evidence of bias particularly among universities which have a large proportion of BME applicants. The Government should be congratulated on persuading UCAS to publish this data which has provided much more transparency to the bias debate.

James Dobson is a researcher at Bright Blue