All men are not equal in any descriptive sense. For instance, they are not equal physically or intellectually. In a prescriptive sense, we might say they should be treated equally, as long as there are not grounds for treating them differently. In other words, men with identical tax returns should be treated equally; men suffering from different ailments should not. The entitlement of all people is therefore to equal consideration. They should be treated equally, unless there are good reasons for not doing so. The principle of equality, understood in this way, does not say that all human beings must be treated alike. We presume that they should be, unless there are grounds for making distinctions.
   Equality has traditionally been a political issue at the heart of the LeftRight divide. Socialists dislike the degree of economic inequality in society and point to the vast discrepancies in wealth and income. They note the extent to which affluence confers social advantage in education, health and other forms of social provision. For many years, the Labour Party emphasised the importance of equality of outcome. Most supporters did not favour absolute economic equality, but rather wanted to see their party work towards the creation of a more equal society in which the distinctions of rich and poor were less apparent. New Labour has laid less emphasis upon the traditional party belief in working towards greater equality of outcome. It embraces equality of opportunity as a desirable outcome, implying that everyone should start on a level playing-field so that they have the same life chances. Because of individual differences in ability and talent, it is likely to result in economic and social inequality.
   Conservatives stress that men are born unequal. They have different abilities, and some will flourish. We therefore need a ‘ladder and a safety net’, so that in life’s competitive race the enterprising can flourish and those who cannot make it can be rescued. equality before the law
   All humans have certain fundamental rights and should be treated equally unless there are special circumstances making for an exception. The spirit of the idea is that these fundamentals apply to all people because of their common humanity. Equals in law should be treated equally by the law.
   Of course, the law is not equally accessible to all. Legal aid is only available to the very badly off, and the rich can hire the services of a prestigious barrister. In beginning court proceedings, education, social standing and wealth can have an influence. The ignorant or poor do not always have the means to establish their rights, whereas the privileged can take action to clear their name and win large damages.
   Although the presumption is that the law should treat people equally, some argue for ‘positive discrimination’ in favour of the disadvantaged so that those who have for years suffered handicaps – women, members of minority races and the disabled, among them – can have an increased opportunity enabling them to ‘catch up’ and gain positions hitherto denied to them. ‘Equality before the law’ is enshrined in the Race Discrimination and Sex Discrimination Acts, but positive discrimination can give the disadvantaged an extra push. The two ideas may seem to be in conflict.

Glossary of UK Government and Politics . 2013.

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