Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 February 2011
In the UK and many other European countries, there continue to be concerns about a range of social issues including the position of immigrants, the educational attainment of marginalised groups and the persistence of the gender pay gap. Increasingly, governments and NGOs assert that the promotion of equality and human rights policies are central to addressing these issues, with a view to creating societies which are both more equitable and more efficient. Over the past decade and a half, a period of economic growth followed recently by a major recession, the equality and human rights agenda enjoyed a high political profile. However, as we discuss in this review article, the social and economic optimism of the late nineties and early to mid noughties has been followed by economic retrenchment, a commitment to the shrinking of the state and the public sphere across Europe and a general move to the political right. In this article, we first review the political context which led to the rise of the equality and human rights agenda. Subsequently, we examine competing conceptualisations of equality and their operationalisation within British social policy. Finally, we assess the progress which has been made towards achieving a more equal society in the UK over recent years drawing on data gathered and analysed by the National Equality Panel (NEP, 2010).