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15 Examples of Social Issues in the UK

The United Kingdom consists of four geographic parts: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Island. It’s home to nearly 68 million people, while its capital city – London – is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. What are the social issues facing the UK today? Here are 15 examples:

No. Topic
1 Cost-of-living crisis
2 Food insecurity
3 Children experiencing poverty
4 Homelessness
5 Women’s rights
6 Trans rights
7 Climate change
8 Education
9 Healthcare
10 Racial discrimination
11 Police brutality
12 Mental health
13 Asylum and migration
14 Weakening of human rights protections
15 Digital safety and privacy

#1. Cost-of-living crisis

The UK has been in a cost-of-living crisis since 2021. There are a few causes, such as the global rise in inflation, COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and Brexit. The high price of everyday goods, like groceries, electricity, and clothing, has the most impact on low-income families and individuals. High bills also impact the future of young people. According to a survey of 18-24-year-olds, ⅔ had lowered their career expectations, saying they could only focus on short-term survival. While the rate of price increases appears to be falling, it will likely take many people a long time to recover.

#2. Food insecurity

In its 2023 World Report on the UK, Human Rights Watch listed the “right to food” as an area of concern. The UK’s largest food bank network distributed 2.1 million emergency food parcels, which represents an 81% increase since 2017. Single-parent households, Black families, and people in social housing are the most likely to struggle with food security. People with disabilities and people receiving social security are also four times more likely to face food insecurity. High costs are a big reason why food security is becoming a more serious issue.

#3. Children experiencing poverty

Around 14.5 million people in the UK live in poverty. 4.3 million are children. According to data, the income of the households earning the least is set to fall yet again. Black and minority ethnic children will be affected the most. 46% of this group live in poverty compared to 26% of white British children. A report on northern schools found a link between education and poverty. Kids born into the poorest fifth of families in the UK were 13 times more likely to experience poor educational outcomes and poor health by 17 years old. A lack of funding is a big reason why. Northern schools get less money compared to Southern schools. While it’s not the only issue to address when it comes to child poverty, adequate education is crucial.

#4. Homelessness

It’s difficult to get accurate information on the number of people experiencing homelessness, but according to CNN, the number of households in temporary commendation reached its highest level since 1998. Temporary accommodations include hostels and rooms in a shared house. To address this issue, experts say the government needs to build homes. While they put the ideal number at around 380,000 homes, only 192,000 homes were built in 2022. The causes of homelessness, like high rents and a lack of affordable housing, also need to be addressed.

#5. Women’s rights

The UK faces many of the same issues as other countries struggling to achieve gender equality: a gender pay gap, job segregation, and cultural sexism. Unfortunately, not everyone believes the UK needs to do more work. According to one survey, 39% of participants believed that men were expected to do “too much” to support gender equality, while 43% believed society was now discriminating against men. Young people, especially boys, face an onslaught of misogynist content online, which affects their views on women and gender equality. On the other hand, 51% of survey participants said there were actions they could do to promote gender equality, while 47% expressed optimism about achieving equality within their lifetime.

#6. Trans rights

The UK has frequently ranked high on lists of the best and safest places for the LGBTQ+ community, but its views on trans rights have caused significant harm. The British press has driven much of the public’s contempt for trans people, while legal protections are not adequate. In Scotland, Parliament passed a Gender Recognition Reform bill, which made it easier for trans people to legally change their gender. The UK vetoed the bill, which had never happened before in Scottish history. These are just a few explanations for why the UK dropped from 10th to 14th place in ILGA’s 2020 European ranking.

#7. Climate change

The UK is one of the world’s top 20 greenhouse gas emitters. While the public supports stronger regulations and emission reductions, the country is not on track to meet its goals. It still depends heavily on electricity generated from gas. In 2022, the country recorded its hottest temperatures on record: 104 Fahrenheit/40 Celsius. Despite the climate emergency, there are concerns that Britain’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, is planning to “backtrack” on the UK’s climate goals.

#8. Education

The quality of someone’s education has a huge impact on their future. In the UK, hundreds of thousands of kids don’t even have a safe school building. According to a report, around 700,000 kids attend school at “unsafe or aging” buildings in need of major repairs. If not addressed, issues like asbestos and sewage leaks pose serious risks to kids. Education quality is also threatened if students are frequently suspended. Post-pandemic, more than 3,000 students are sent home every day. Many of these kids come from low-income backgrounds, while children with special needs are four times more likely to lose learning due to suspensions.

#9. Healthcare

For years, the publicly-funded National Health Service (NHS) was a source of pride for the UK. Now, the system is weakening. Wait times for treatments and emergency care are getting out of control. According to CNN, half of the people waiting for “elective care,” which can include cardiac surgery and cancer treatment, had waited up to 18 weeks. 400,000 had waited for over a year. Healthcare workers are feeling the strain, too. In early 2023, tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance workers staged the largest walkout in the NHS’ history. Falling wages, staff shortages, and lack of funds are just three of the major issues. Experts worry about the sustainability of the NHS while private health insurance is increasing to fill in the gaps.

#10. Racial discrimination

Certain parts of the UK are very racially diverse – especially London – but discrimination remains a problem. According to the UN, racism is “structural, institutional and systemic.” People of African descent face especially severe discrimination and violations of their rights. There’s been progress regarding reconciliation, but more needs to be done. The COVID-19 pandemic also triggered racist attitudes and attacks toward British Chinese people and Southeastern Asians.

#11. Police brutality

There’s little doubt that countries like the United States have a police brutality issue, but the UK has similar problems. In a blog from the University of Birmingham, an associate professor of law and criminal justice points out how “warrior culture,” which encourages police to turn to aggression and violence, is present in the UK. One report from the charity group Inquest found that Black people are seven times more likely to die after police restraint. In early 2023, more than 1,500 police officers were accused of violence against women and girls. Because police brutality is often covered up or not reported for fear of retaliation, the scale of the problem is likely much worse.

#12. Mental health

Mental health conditions are very common in the UK. Stigma remains a barrier to getting care. According to one survey, around 9 out of 10 people with mental health issues say that discrimination and stigma negatively impact their lives. Mental health problems also cost the country a lot of money. One report found that mental health costs the UK at least £117.9 billion every year. Most of that cost comes from lost productivity and what’s accumulated by unpaid informal caregivers providing mental health support to their communities.

#13. Asylum and migration

According to Guardian reporting, the UK ranks 17th among EU countries for number of asylum applications. In terms of protecting the rights of asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants, its record isn’t the best. The Nationality and Borders Act, which became law in 2022, criminalizes those seeking asylum through “irregular means.” The government’s goal is to stop people crossing the Channel in small boats. No safer alternatives have been offered. Groups like the UN Refugee Council and civil society groups have condemned the law.

#14. Weakening of human rights protections

According to Human Rights Watch, the UK has suffered several human rights issues in recent years. The UK director went so far as to call 2022 the “most significant assault on human rights protections in the UK in decades.” Examples include violations of the rights of asylum seekers, voter disenfranchisement, and new restrictions on the right to peaceful protest. The government also brought up repealing the Human Rights Act, claiming it was being abused and that replacing it would strengthen UK sovereignty. Experts warn repealing the Act would severely weaken human rights protections. At the time of writing, the UK had not repealed or replaced the Human Rights Act, but the possibility remains a concern.

#15. Digital safety and privacy

The internet can be a dangerous place, especially for young people. The UK is attempting to increase protections with the Online Safety Bill, which passed on September 19, 2023. The legislation regulates how large tech firms design, operate, and moderate social media platforms. However, privacy activists worry about the bill’s impacts on freedom of expression, privacy rights, and end-to-end encryption, which keeps data secure from companies and governments. The UK government has also faced backlash for using surveillance technology that could log and store the web histories of millions. If the technology is implemented nationally, it increases law enforcement’s intrusive reach. Digital safety and privacy is a complex issue as the two aspects – safety and privacy – often battle one another.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.