There is limited evidence relating to sexual orientation and economic circumstances.
The general perception, often perpetuated by the media, that the majority of the ‘gay community’ is mainly white, male and middle-class, with high levels of disposable income, does not accurately reflect the diverse backgrounds of gay people in Britain.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual people are of course just as likely to be from low-income backgrounds as any other demographic. Gay people from more affluent demographics are simply more visible than those from other backgrounds.
It is also well documented that discrimination can lead to social exclusion. Therefore gay people are in fact likely to experience greater economic deprivation and social exclusion in some circumstances precisely because of their sexual orientation.
No-one knows how many gay people there are in Britain. Due to the legacy of criminalisation and discrimination it is likely that many studies tend to underestimate numbers. However government actuaries estimate that six per cent of the population, around 3.6 million people, are lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Stonewall’s position is that if six per cent of the population are gay, then six per cent of those who are economically disadvantaged are likely to be gay. We also know from our research that gay people face a wide range of challenge and discrimination that can contribute to social exclusion.
Stonewall’s survey, Serves You Right of 1,658 lesbian, gay and bisexual people found that gay people expect poorer treatment from public services including social housing, criminal justice and health services.
Serves You Right also found that nearly one in five gay people say they have experienced bullying from their colleagues because of their sexual orientation. Discrimination in the workplace can lead to people leaving their jobs and becoming unemployed. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people in occupational groups C2DE (working class) are 50 per cent more likely to experience bullying than those in occupational groups ABC1 (middle class).
Stonewall’s survey of 1,140 young lesbian, gay and bisexual people The School Report found that 65 per cent of young people had experienced homophobic bullying. Seven in ten feel this has an impact on their work, and half have skipped school at some point because of it. More broadly, Stonewall’s The Gay British Crime Survey found one in five lesbian, gay and bisexual people have experienced a homophobic hate crime in the last three years.
Research indicates that discrimination can impact on mental health and well-being. Some who take claims to employment tribunals about discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation asserted that the bullying and harassment that they had experienced caused them to develop mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.
Stonewall’s report Prescription for Change of a survey of 6,000 lesbian and bisexual women found that half of young women under the age of 20 have self harmed in the last year. Research indicates that young lesbian, gay and bisexual people are more likely to be at risk of homelessness because of bullying at school, and rejection from the family home. Generally therefore discrimination impacts on health and well-being. This in turn can effect social inclusion and economic well-being.
Stonewall often hears via our freephone information service from lesbian, gay and bisexual people who are experiencing difficulties accessing the correct benefits. This is often because local authorities and benefits offices get confused about the rights of same-sex couples. Many organisations are still not clear on the rights and responsibilities of lesbian, gay and bisexual people which can lead to heightened economic exclusion.
Research also clearly demonstrates that women are more likely to experience lower economic well-being than men as a result of lower pensions, and fewer opportunities to access education, employment and training. These circumstances are likely to be exacerbated for two women who live together, rather than a man and a woman. This aspect of economic deprivation is often over-looked by government and policy makers.
From 2009 national government datasets have started to include a question relating to sexual orientation. Stonewall lobbied for this change and welcome it. In future this will mean more accurate data will be available on the social exclusion faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
However, as questions relating to sexual orientation are relatively new, it is anticipated that it will take several years to secure completely accurate data.
Furthermore, the Office of National Statistics found when testing the questions people who have no educational qualifications, belong to a lower socio-economic group or come from a deprived neighbourhood are more likely to answer ‘prefer not to say’ in response to a question relating to sexual orientation.
Stonewall continue to work with government and respond to consultations on social exclusion and deprivation where relevant to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
For example, we engage with the independent National Equality Panel tasked with investigating the relationships between different aspects of inequality in people’s economic situations, and their other characteristics and circumstances.
There are complex interactions both between multiple equality strands and also wider conditions of economic and social disadvantage. We recognise that more in-depth research into the social exclusion and economic disadvantage experienced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people is needed and we continue to work to develop appropriate research methodologies in this challenging area.
If you require more information on Stonewall's work in social exlusion please contact 08000 50 20 20 or firstname.lastname@example.org