Statistics, Reasons, and Solutions
When posed with the question of whether or not UK political culture is sexist, 64% of respondents to a 2016 survey by BMG Research agreed that it was. This prevailing narrative seems common within universities and internet forums such as Mumsnet, in which 90% of respondents agreed in a 2014 poll that our political system is “masculine” and “sexist”. It is, in all fairness, difficult to argue that it was not sexist in the past.
Yet recent statistics are beginning to question these opinions. According to a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the number of female MPs is rapidly rising, from 17.9% in 2002 to 22.8% in 2015. This is mirrored in similar studies by the House of Commons Research Papers, showing a rise from 3% in 1979 to 29% in 2015.
Why, now, is this number rising? One reason may be that socially acceptable misogyny is dying away as more emphasis is placed on day-to-day social equality. Yet this is not the only reason. According to a 2015 report by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), women are 35% more likely to enter higher education than a man, rising to 51% for applicants who had qualified for free school meals. Men are likewise more likely to drop out of higher education and be awarded a lower level qualification than they’d originally hoped to achieve in nearly all disciplines.
This is in stark contrast to current university and governmental initiatives, in which female-only support, such as bursaries for study, far outnumber men’s. Likewise, the Women’s Equality Commission (WEC) within the UK government exists to ardently focus on not only women’s issues, but the effects upon women of even gender-universal issues.
In their 2017 annual report, the WEC refer to the impact of austerity on specifically women and black women, as well as to the UK justice system’s unfairness to women, a system which has in a 2013 survey by Parity UK been shown to unequivocally favour women with lower chances of sentencing and shorter or more lenient sentences for the same crimes.
Although UK political culture could still retain some element of sexism, it is clear that will soon no longer be the case.
Gender-based social inequality is, however, not the only kind of social inequality. In 2017, 52 BME (black and minority ethnic) MPs were elected according to British Future and the House of Commons library. This number is rising from 41 in 2015, and 26 in 2010, and again, higher education statistics also support this rise. Only 10% of white British men from disadvantaged backgrounds go into higher education, in comparison to over 20% of men of black Caribbean heritage, nearly 50% of men of Indian heritage, and over 60% of men of Chinese heritage. The same trend is also seen in women.
With rising numbers of female and BME candidates in university, we are seeing the number of female and BME political candidates rise accordingly. Now we must look at another, even larger cause of social inequality; economic disadvantage.
Five times more white British men from advantaged backgrounds go into higher education than those from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is a marked difference between all social groups from FSM (free school meal) backgrounds and non-FSM backgrounds. Likewise, of MPs, according to the Sutton Trust, 32% of MPs in 2015 were privately educated, and only 10% of MPs were not graduates.
In terms of solutions, it is becoming clearer that as BME and female representation statistics change, so too does discrimination in Parliament. And as the presence of the ‘Patriarchy’ dies away, there exists a potentiality for correction of social equality and even potential for overcorrection. Only by ceasing creation of bursaries granted by virtue of race or ethnicity in favour of those granted by economic status can we reach true social equality, in which emphasis is placed upon economic disadvantages over social ones.
In short, the proportion of male-to-female MPs in the UK is not 50%, nor should it be. There will always be a difference between the number of men and women who want to go into any one career, and the government should never attempt to try to reach total equity by giving some advantages over others due only to the circumstance of their birth. Instead, we should try to remove provable barriers from the equation and not abide by arbitrary percentile numbers. This will ensure total freedom of choice to all and create a government representative of not only its constituents but of those who wish to pursue a political career.
By Josh Matthews