Jaffrina Jahan tells the story of a University of Leeds PhD student who fought and failed to retain her degree scholarship. An isolated case, or part of a trend of mistreatment for non-EU students throughout UK universities?Written by Jaffrina Jahan on 27th January 2015
An equal society?
Spending cuts, a spiralling debt of over £900 billion (79
Don’t get me wrong, I realise how lucky we are as a country, with our free health service that so many in the world so desperately crave. Most of us enjoy freedom of speech and don’t live in fear. Yet, much of the UK’s population are becoming too permissive in the sense that we tolerate some pretty horrendous things thrown at us by the government.The majority of readers, like myself, will be reading this as one of the four out of five people that live above the poverty line. Opening your eyes to reality reveals something slightly more devastating than overbearing exams and dents in that overdraft you promised you’d never break in to. This devastation is what those in poverty are faced with: lack of food, shelter and support. The inequality present in the UK is shocking. With a Gini coefficient (a measurement in income inequality) of 0.36, the UK is exceptionally high by European standards. To put it bluntly, the gap between the rich and the poor, and especially the richest and the poorest, is too wide.
How did this come to be in our supposed ‘equal society’? One where our opinions and acceptance of people is ever blossoming. Women are accepted in the workplace, gay rights have been achieved, and a multitude of races live among each other relatively peacefully (no better illustrated than at our diverse university). Whereas public opinion may generally be more broadly equal, the practicalities, as a direct result of the government, are not.
The coalition has recently been accused by the Equality Human Rights Commission of affecting the most disadvantaged in society. To add further insult to injury, the EHRC is concerned that Cameron, Cleggy and crew may not be paying attention to their legal obligation in considering the effects policies have on equality. In basics words: the government could be breaking equality laws. Disturbing.
During an assessment of the 2010 spending review, the EHRC expressed doubts over whether the government checked how its policies would affect those deemed the most vulnerable among us. Pushing legal protocol aside in order to ‘wow’ the public with ‘impressive’ policies is what the government appears to be guilty of. Taking the brunt of this are women, disabled people and ethnic minorities.
Perhaps the most relevant policy to university students is the brutal end to EMA that the coalition brought about. Without it, some teenagers may find themselves unable to afford the costs of books and transport that come along with college, and therefore killing their dreams of university. With 50 per cent of children from ethnic minorities living in low-income households, compared to 25 per cent of white British children, its clear which groups in society this policy affects the most.
Although the majority of the population may not feel the consequential inequality of the government’s policies, there’s a minority that do. It seems outrageous that this goes unnoticed, leaving people to suffer and society to feel powerless. Perhaps it’s lack of knowledge, lack of care, lack of voice, or perhaps it’s the permissiveness that’s being adopted. That ‘stuff happens’ attitude that has leaked out of the less important areas of life, such as running out of socks, spilling Aldi soup on your two-week-old jeans, or falling flat on your face in the middle of Broad Street. Whatever it is, our country is not equal, and it’s going to become more of a problem than we currently realise. For now, it’s back to the soup.