Sustainable Development Goals


UCL report recommends new approach for addressing structural inequalities in UK

​​​​​​​ A UCL report showed that people are facing multiple levels of disadvantage and proposed that the UK government needed to take a new approach to solve social inequalities.


7 January 2021

Despite multiple pieces of legislation designed to reduce discrimination and create a more inclusive society, significant inequalities remain prevalent in UK society.

In 2019, a partnership between UCL’s Grand Challenge of Justice & Equality, UCL Public Policy and the Resolution Foundation, brought together organisations from across academia, business, government, policy and the third sector to develop an intersectional understanding of inequalities in the UK and explore how policy can be more effectively address structural inequalities.

‘Exploring Inequalities: Igniting research to better inform UK policy’, sought to understand the complex, interlinking factors such as education, access to opportunity and regional differences. The project’s final report, ‘Structurally Unsound’ showed that certain groups face multiple levels of disadvantage, with structural inequalities emerging before birth and accumulating during a person’s life.

The report showed that women, ethnic minority, and disabled groups often face multiple disadvantages affecting their educational outcomes, employment prospects, home ownership, health and life expectancy.

“We found that the issues driving inequality – including socioeconomic background, education, age, sex and ethnicity – must be understood in the round, as complex and interlinked issues.”

It therefore calls for an improved evidence base that more accurately captures the overlapping, multiple nature of inequalities and better informs which policy interventions are most effective. It also proposes that the UK Government takes a new approach to solving social inequalities.

“The issues driving inequality must be understood as complex and interlinked issues,” said report lead author Siobhan Morris (UCL Grand Challenge of Justice & Equality). “Policy responses that perceive them singularly and offer ‘one size fits all’ solutions cannot meet the needs of people experiencing multiple disadvantage.”

The report also highlighted that where you live has a significant impact on experiences of inequality. “Issues of equality are heavily intertwined with disparities in infrastructures across the UK, including road, rail, schools and libraries. Understanding how structural inequalities play out across different groups, places and points in time requires the adoption of a new focus within the research and policymaking communities,” explained co-author Dr Olivia Stevenson (UCL Public Policy).

“Working with a long list of organisations, Exploring Inequalities was able to assemble many of the lessons to consider when thinking about how to better approach the study and treatment of structural inequalities. Understanding the scars those inequalities leave on individuals, communities and society as a whole will remain critically important in the years ahead,” said project co-chair Professor Nick Gallent (UCL Bartlett School).