Leeds School of Social Sciences

Psychology of Social Class – Implications for UK Policy (POSCUPI)

Dr Brigette Rickett talks about current work taking place on social class and how Social Sciences could help to effect positive change in society.

Dr Bridgette Rickett

Social class-based inequalities are back on the UK policy agenda after many years of neglect. You will have noticed the UK government’s publicly stated aim to ‘level up’ opportunities and outcomes across social class groups. At the same time, it has been hard to miss the research findings splashed on the front of our newspapers that add COVID-19 to the long list of health threats that have a differentially negative impact on working-class people and communities.

But what some may not have noticed is there is now an opportunity for the social sciences to affect policy change and reduce such inequalities through a reviewed Equality Act 2010. Currently this Act provides protection against discrimination in respect of the nine protected characteristics (including sex, race, and disability). But it does not prohibit discrimination due to social class or socioeconomic status.

Psychology at Leeds Becket University has long led on scholarship around the psychology of social class-based inequalities. For example, Katy Day’s work has found sexist and classist media representation of working-class women that can shape the way they are treated. Rowan Sandles’s work shows that UK reality TV often blames working-class individuals for economic and health inequalities and turns our head away from poverty created at social and policy level. While Maxine Woolhouse’s research has found that such societal, class-based prejudices increase both stigma towards, and negative impact on, individual working-class families. While my own research on working-class women’s health and their working lives has found that organisational-level structures and policies create experiences of alienation, a lack of belonging and a perceived need to work doubly hard to gain respect.

National recognition of our work, coupled with the current political context, has led to an invitation to head up a national initiative ‘Psychology of Social Class – Implications for UK policy’ (POSCUPI). This brings together UK scholars, including Psychology at Leeds Beckett researchers, who study within the Psychology of social class-based inequalities, and our professional body (British Psychology Society. Our first step is to deliver a position paper to inform the cross-party Equality Act Review. This will enable Psychology as a discipline to play its part by systematically reviewing and presenting the empirical basis for the inclusion of social class as a protected characteristic in a revised UK Equality Act.

To keep updated see our up-and-coming POSCUPI website hosted by Leeds Beckett University and contact me if you want to know more about this initiative.

Dr Bridgette Rickett

Head of Subject / Leeds School Of Social Sciences

Bridgette is Head of Psychology in the Leeds School of Social Sciences here at Leeds Beckett and the current Chair of Athena Swan Self Assessment Sub-Panel for the School.

Bridgette has also been the Chair of the Psychology of Women Section (British Psychology Society), is currently a committee member of the Association of Heads of Psychology and is leading the British Psychology Society position paper on the psychological evidence for in inclusion of social class/inequities as a protected characteristic in a revised UK Equality Act.

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