United Kingdom - Social development

A gradually evolved system of social security, placed in full operation in 1948, provides national insurance, industrial injuries insurance, family allowances, and national assistance throughout the United Kingdom, although the system is administered separately in Northern Ireland. The National Insurance scheme provides benefits for sickness, unemployment, maternity, and widowhood, as well as guardian's allowances, retirement pensions, and death grants. Most of these and the industrial injury benefits are financed in part through a complex system of compulsory weekly flat-rate and graduated contributions by employees, employers, and self-employed. Sickness benefits are paid at a weekly standard rate, with additional amounts for dependents. Unemployment benefits, at the same rates, are payable continuously for up to one year. Retirement pensions cover men at 65 and women at 60. Child benefits provide weekly payments for each child, up to the age of 16 or 19, depending on when the child leaves school.

Financial assistance for the poor is provided through a system of benefits in the form of a supplementary pension for those over statutory retirement age and a supplementary allowance for others. It also provides temporary accommodation for the homeless in specially designated reception centers. For poverty-stricken families in which the head of the household is in full-time employment, a family income supplement is paid. Maternity benefits cover women who have been employed for 26 weeks.

Equal opportunity between the sexes is provided for by law, although some discrimination against women continues. Sexual harassment is a problem in the workplace and women on average earn 18% less than men. Violence against women persists, however there are many laws providing protection and the substantial penalties are strictly enforced.

Although racial discrimination is prohibited by law, people of Asian and African origin are subject to discrimination and harassment. Ethnic minorities are also more likely to be stopped and searched by police. The government at all levels fully respects the legal right to freedom of religion. Human rights organizations have criticized legislation in Northern Ireland which denies suspects the right to immediate legal counsel and the right to silence. There are also some security-related restrictions on the freedoms of assembly and association in Northern Ireland.

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