How did the UK get into such a mess? Too many of the same people making the decisions

Boris Johnson’s Cabinet meeting. Photo credit: UK Prime Minister licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Boris Johnson’s Cabinet meeting. Photo credit: UK Prime Minister licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Can a homogeneous group of people ever make effective decisions on behalf of a diverse population? The people of this country have been let down and deeply angered by a government managing an international crisis without the diversity of perspectives and understanding needed to support the variety of people it represents. We need a brand new diverse advisory group to help us navigate our way out of this crisis.

The UK has one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the world, relative to population size, and cases are currently escalating out of control. Our society is increasingly divided.  NHS and education staff find themselves under constant attack by government ministers, tabloids, social media, commentators and MPs. Parents are overwhelmed by the pressures of home-schooling and confused by the frequent changes in approach. Three million people are excluded from self-employed income support. People are unsure of the rules, tired of inconsistent messaging and angry at the government’s lack of understanding of the issues they face. So how did we get into such a mess?

The answer is simple – there is only one type of person making decisions.

The current government is overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, and, crucially, almost exclusively from upper class backgrounds. This lack of diversity at the highest level means a lack of perspectives, a lack of life experiences and a glaring lack of understanding of the different challenges and needs of the people the government is supposed to serve.

Boris Johnson Cabinet committee on climate change. Photo credit: UK Prime Minister, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Boris Johnson Cabinet committee on climate change. Photo credit: UK Prime Minister, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

There has been talk of the need for a government of national unity to bring together the best of our political minds to navigate out of this crisis. But how can that be enough when the wider parliament is still a highly homogeneous group? 90% of members of the House of Commons are white, and 66% are male. Half are over the age of 50, and the average age has remained around 50 since 1979. 29% went to fee-paying schools (compared to 7% of the national population), and a staggering 82% are university graduates, with 24% having attended Oxford or Cambridge universities. Can this group of people represent the population of the United Kingdom? Or understand their needs well enough to make decisions that will impact their lives?

To dig ourselves out of this chaos we urgently need to diversify who is involved in making decisions. We need to create a new advisory group made up of diverse individuals with relevant real-life experience outside the world of politics. We need to be consulting teachers, doctors, care workers, cleaners and office workers. We need to be understanding the challenges facing parents, low-income households, self-employed people, vulnerable people, pregnant women, and so many more.

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The fact that the government isn’t currently consulting these people has led to inadequate support, confusing Covid messaging and a huge increase in mental health problems across the UK. Perhaps most crucially, it has led to confusion, meaning people have been (purposefully or accidentally) failing to follow rules that could save lives. And the problems continue, with GCSEs and A-levels now being assessed by teachers. The Joint Secretary of the National Education Union has said that biases will affect the grades of many students, and teachers have not been supported with training to help them with this.

We must stop talking about diversity as something for do-gooding snowflakes. In a crisis it is vital that we have as wide a range of perspectives and insights as possible to enable innovative thinking and problem-solving. We need to invest in diversity training for people involved in making decisions, and we must involve more people so that MPs are more representative of the population at large. Parliament must begin to look outside its homogeneous bubble for solutions, before it’s too late.

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