Britain’s coping classes at breaking point, report finds

Monday, October 11, 2010
By Paul Martin

Millions of “dutiful, middle-aged” couples who care for their parents and teenage children will be “chronically disadvantaged” by the demands of Britain’s ageing population, a report has found.

By Tim Ross
TelegraphUK
10 Oct 2010

The “coping classes” increasingly are struggling with the responsibility of looking after two generations, the equality watchdog says.

Without action now, the “burden” of caring for older relatives will destroy the “bond of affection” at the heart of family life, the Equality and Human Rights Commission says.

The warning comes in a 700-page report that forms the first comprehensive survey of disadvantage and discrimination across Britain. While the country today is more tolerant than in 1970, society is still not fair for many people, it says. The economic crisis and the Government’s proposed spending cuts threaten to make inequality worse, it says. The report, How Fair is Britain?, finds:

Progress at narrowing the pay gap between men and women has “stalled”. While there has been substantial improvement over the past 30 years, momentum has “ground to a halt”. Women working full-time earn 16.4 per cent less than men.
The white working classes are missing out on good jobs compared with other ethnic groups, with Chinese and Indian men nearly twice as likely to find professional work.
Unemployment among ethnic minorities costs the economy almost £8.6 billion a year in benefits and lost revenue from taxes. Half of Muslim men and three quarters of Muslim women are unemployed.
The country has a strong sense of tolerance and fair play. However, racism and religious prejudice are increasing, while hostility towards immigration has grown.

The looming crisis in care for the elderly causes the watchdog the most acute concern. Millions in the “sandwich generation” face having to look after their parents while still caring for their children, it says. Launching the report, Trevor Phillips, the commission chairman, will say today that the “spirit of sacrifice” must not be abused if families are to survive. “For families like my own, care for our elderly is not just second nature, it’s a moral duty,” he will say.

“Unless we adjust to increased longevity and the stresses of modern life we risk turning what could be one of the foundation stones of the Big Society into a burden.

“One in four women and one in five men in their fifties is a carer.

“These are some of the most hard-pressed folk in our society – and they deserve a break. This is not a problem for particular families or for government — it’s one for all of us.”

The number of pensioners and other adults who will need informal care from their families is expected to increase by 90 per cent in the next 30 years. The burden will fall mainly on the middle-aged who are trying to juggle work with raising children, and providing an estimated 1.3 million elderly relatives with informal care. The report calls for people to be given greater financial support by government.

It goes on to identify areas of “segregation” in education and employment. While the gender pay gap has fallen for the past 30 years, progress seems to have “halted”.

The gender pay gap is lowest for the under 30s, rising more than five-fold by the time women reach 40.

An analysis of living standards shows that the total household wealth of the top 10 per cent in society is almost 100 times higher than for the poorest 10 per cent.

Mr Phillips says: “This review holds up the mirror to fairness in Britain. Sixty years on from the Beveridge report and the creation of the welfare state, his five giants of squalor, disease, ignorance, want and idleness have been cut down to size, though they still stalk the land.

“For some, the gateways to opportunity appear permanently closed while others seem to have been issued with an ‘access all areas’ pass at birth. Recession, demographic change and new technology all threaten to deepen the fault lines between insiders and outsiders.”

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