The UK: a diverse democracy?

On 18 August, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report showing that ethnic minorities in the UK continue to be disadvantaged in numerous ways. Shortly after, the Prime Minister Theresa May launched an audit of how different groups in society interact with public services. But is it enough for the state to treat everyone fairly, or should it also reflect the public it is supposed to serve – and, more concretely, does it?

Comparing diversity data

Let’s take a look at the three main branches of democratic government, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. It is difficult to systematically compare how diverse these institutions are, because different organisations collect diversity data in different ways. Additionally, staff are not obliged to provide diversity information, so data tends to be incomplete. With that in mind, the data on women and ethnic minorities are most suitable for comparison.

Women, ethnic minorities and the state

The charts below show that certain parts of the state employ more women and ethnic minorities than others: both groups are underrepresented in particular among court judges, and Members of both Houses of Parliament (though MPs are elected rather than employed or appointed).

The proportion of women is equal to or greater than that in the UK working age population in the Civil Service and among House of Lords staff.

The proportion of ethnic minorities equals or exceeds that in the working age population among House of Commons & PICT (now the Parliamentary Digital Service) staff, tribunal judges, solicitors and barristers – who form the pool from which most judges are drawn.

Note: latest available data; ethnicity data not available for House of Lords staff

Sources: Labour Force Survey 2015 Q3, Solicitor Regulation Authority Diversity statistics (raw data), Bar Standards Board, practising barrister statistics, Data spreadsheet 2010-2015, 2016 Judicial Diversity Statistics, Civil Service Employment Survey 2015, House of Lords Resource Accounts, 2015-16, House of Lords annual report 2015-16, House of Commons & Parliamentary Digital Service Diversity Monitoring Report (March 2016), House of Commons Library data

These charts provide only a snapshot of the situation in these organisations, and they do not show important differences within each organisation, such as for example the fact that women and ethnic minorities tend to work in less senior positions.

More detailed information is included in Library Briefing Paper 7720 Diversity in the UK’s democratic institutions.

Picture Credit: UK Youth Parliament 2015, by Jessica Taylor (UK Parliament); Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)