The need to improve access to universities | Letters

It would be wonderful if the growing protests against class, ethnic and gender discrimination are the start of a transition to a radically better society (UK’s top universities urged to act on classism and accent prejudice, 24 October). But that means recognising that inequality and social hierarchy are fundamental to division and discrimination. The prejudices wax and wane with differences in income, wealth and power.

Following his election victory, John Major said he wanted to create a classless society; he failed because he did nothing about inequality. In contrast, Per Albin Hansson, a former Swedish prime minister, made a similar commitment, but was partially successful because he and his successors did reduce income differences.

As research shows, bigger economic differences make class and status more important. Underpinning intolerance and prejudice, they not only become the measure of a person’s worth, they also weaken community life, reduce child wellbeing and make equal opportunities an ever more distant prospect. At the same time, violence increases and health suffers. But reduce inequality and all these outcomes improve.
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett Authors of The Spirit Level and The Inner Level, and co-founders of The Equality Trust

The Institute for Fiscal Studies report showing that ethnic minorities are under-represented among economists at leading universities (Report, 26 October) misses a chance to focus more on the gender/ethnicity/social class nexus of under-representation that Rethinking Economics has uncovered for our forthcoming book on the need to democratise economics.

In 2018-19, 41% of UK undergraduates in economics at Russell Group universities came from the highest-earning households, while they only represented 15% of the population (according to the Office for National Statistics). Students from the poorest households accounted for about 2% of these undergraduates, but made up 6% of the population.

Let’s highlight the interweaving barriers of sexism, racism and elitism which mean that poorer people, particularly those who are black Caribbean, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and women, are severely under-represented among economists.
Dr Nicola Scott
Rethinking Economics, Manchester


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