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The Next Prejudice - Your Occupation

Western societies are progressively waking up to prejudices deeply ingrained in our cultures. Gender (both self-selected and birth-allocated), skin colour, religion, nationality and age are all differentiators which traditionally our cultures used to define how we treat people. Today - at least amongst civilised and liberal-minded people such as they might exist - we celebrate diversity, and we try to treat all flavours of people as equal... which of course we are. But is there a classification which we still wittingly, or otherwise, use to define our behaviour towards people who adopt or are given that classification? Are we still prejudiced despite our new liberal nature? Are we prejudiced by a person's occupation?

I recently received a form I needed to complete before being accepted for household insurance cover. It's what they call a Statement of Fact. It includes a whole range of things you might expect like 'have I made any claims recently', 'does my property suffer from landslip or flooding', 'do I have burglar alarms fitted' etc. It them asks me about my credit worthiness and my history of financial responsibility - so 'have I ever been a bankrupt or convicted of fraud?' A bit presumptive perhaps, but we're used to our personal history defining things like credit risk.

It then goes on to ask about everyone else living at the address, and in particular asks this: (copied word for word from the form):
"Please inform us (if you have not already done so) if you or your family living with you have any of the following occupations: bookmaker, turf accountant, night club employee, casino employee, bodyguard, haulage contractor, motor trader (non- main dealer), street or market trader, scrap merchant, pawnbroker, money lender, circus employee, fairground worker, amusement arcade worker or professional sportsperson."
The form doesn't explain why they need to know this or what the consequences might be if anyone were perchance a bodyguard or professional sportsperson... for heaven's sake! But the implication is clear. If I, or anyone else living with me does any of these jobs, they are considered a security or fraud risk.

How incredibly presumptive and insulting!

Ignoring for the moment whether a bookmaker is more or less likely to make a false claim for financial loss than a professional sportsperson, is there really any evidence other than hearsay and stories that people performing these occupations are any less trustworthy than the rest of us? And even if there was statistical evidence, doesn't every individual deserve the right to be considered on their personal merits rather than any presumption of a propensity to be a risk based on that statistic for their profession as a whole?

Surely everyone who's a circus worker, market trader or night club employee deserves exactly the same respect as an investment banker or politician... both of whom might also have been added to the list had popular opinion about trustworthiness been used to inform whoever created the form. And I've still got to get my head around why a professional sportsperson might ever be considered less trustworthy. Or maybe this is just about creditworthiness. Earning a living from sport is very precarious, but then so is being an entrepreneur.

We must never form judgements of people simply by assuming their occupational label defines their quality as a citizen and human being. We might perhaps reasonably make an assumption that if someone is a bookmaker, they'll know something about horse racing and be clever with numbers. Or that bodyguards might know how to defend themselves better than the average person. But it's obvious if you listen to any pub talk, this list of jobs is intended to assign characteristics of people who might inhabit some shadowy, marginal corner of our society. Perhaps even criminal. And that is prejudice - pure and simple. Assigning a characteristic by inference and mythology, not by evidence of a personal attribute, is unfair prejudice.

During my lifetime, our eyes have been opened to prejudicial behaviours that in my youth were considered normal and appropriate - even essential for an orderly society. Some were reinforced by laws. Homosexuality was illegal. Women were barred from a range of institutions and considered chattels of their husbands. Religions were enforced, or banned, by your school. And it was legal to prevent 'coloureds' from renting your property (you must see the play Small Island, currently at the National Theatre in London).

Although there exists today a disturbing emergence led by the likes of UKIP/Brexit and other nationalist groups a desire to wind back these liberal views towards a more exclusive tribal way of life - the way my parents judged people (compare Make America Great Again and Trump's overtly racist mantra) - most of us are, by and large, more tolerant and appreciative of diversity. So are we poised to recognise that defining people by their occupation is another form of divisive inequality? Should we have laws to prevent it occurring?

The fact that my insurance company is legally permitted to discriminate by occupation suggests we're not as liberal and fair-minded as we might think we are. All of us need to constantly ask ourselves, are we being fair? Are we being open-minded? Or are we being irrationally judgmental?


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