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BritainUSA Home > All about Britain
Social Issues

Social issues facing Britain as well as health care and social security information for visitors to the UK and for British overseas residents.


  • Prime Minister Gordon Brown Backs Digital Safety Report
    10 Downing Street, 3/27/2008
  • UK Government Intensifies Drive to Tackle Anti-social Behavior in Young People
    Department for Children, Schools and Families, 3/18/2008
  • British Embassy Deputy Head of Mission Dominick Chilcott Launches Executive Summary on Empowerment of Women for International Women's Day
    The British Embassy, Washington DC, 3/10/2020
  • Prime Minister Gordon Brown Marks International Women's Day
    10 Downing Street, London, 3/8/2020
  • International Women’s Day 2008
    The British Embassy, Washington DC, 3/7/2020

  • Click here for more Social Issues news ...


    Britain has a comprehensive range of health services, social services and social security benefits.

    Health services, provided by the National Health Service and funded by general taxation, are, with the exception of some prescription, dental and opthalmic treatments, free to residents of the United Kingdom.

    Social services offer  practical help and support, and are provided by the social services departments of local authorities.


    The social security benefits system aims to secure a basic standard of living for people in financial need.


    Discrimination on the basis of race, gender and disability is illegal. The Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, and the Disability Discrimination Act  are designed to eliminate discrimination and promote equal rights.


    The misuse of drugs is a serious social and health problem. The Government's anti-drugs strategy Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, updated in 2002, aims to discourage young people from using drugs and provide support to parents and family members who are concerned about drugs.


    The National Health Service (NHS) was created in 1948 to provide healthcare for the UK resident population based on need not the ability to pay. All taxpayers, employers and employees contribute to the cost.


    The NHS  covers a comprehensive range of primary care through family doctors, dentists and other health care professionals, hospital and ambulance services, and specialist hospitals treating particular types of illness or disease.


    In England the NHS is managed by the Department of Health, which is responsible for developing and implementing policies and for the regulation and inspection of health services. The devolved administrations have similar responsibilities in other parts of the United Kingdom.


    Reciprocal health agreements exist with other countries. There is however no reciprocal arrangement with the United States.


    Information on health care for US visitors and British overseas residents can be found in the Frequently Asked Question on health care for overseas visitors.

    NHS Direct

    NHS Direct, a nurse-led telephone helpline, provides  access to health information and advice in England.  NHS Direct Wales provides a similar service, as does NHS 24 in Scotland.


    NHS Direct Online  provides a self-help guide, and encyclopedia of over 450 health topics and an interactive enquiry service for health information.

    Social Services

    The Secretary of State for Health is responsible under Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 for the provision of social services for the elderly, the disabled, families and children and those with mental health problems or learning disabilities. Personal social services are administered by local authorities according to policies and standards set by central government.


    In 2002 the National Care Standards Commission was set up to regulate social, private and voluntary care services throughout England.

    From April 2004, the Commission for Social Care Inspection  will be the single inspectorate for social care. It will combine the work of the Social Services Inspectorate , the SSI/ Audit Commission joint review team and the National Care Standards Commission .

    Social Security

    The social security benefits system is designed to secure a basic standard of living for people who are unemployed or unable to work, pensions for retired people, financial help for low-income families and assistance with costs arising from disablement.

    The Deparment for Work and Pensions is responsible for the provision of these benefits in Great Britain, the Social Security Agency of the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland.

    All taxpayers, employers and employees contribute to the cost of social security. The program has two sources of finance:


    National Insurance Fund - the cost of contributory benefits and their administration is met from the National Insurance Fund to which all employers and employees contribute.


    General taxation - Non-contributory benefits and their administration are financed from general taxation.


    The United Kingdom has reciprocal social security agreements with a number of other countries, including the United States.


    Information on pensions and benefits for overseas residents can be found in the Frequently Asked Question on pension and social security benefits for overseas residents.

    Equal Rights

    The Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission  have powers to investigate discrimination based on race, gender and disability.


    In the 2001 Census 8% of the UK population described themselves as belonging to a minority ethnic group. The Home Office has overall responsibility for policy and legislation on racial equality.


    In Great Britain the Race Relations Act 1976 makes it unlawful for anybody to discriminate on grounds of race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins. The Act applies to employment, training, education and the provision of goods and services. Legislation along similar lines was introduced in Northern Ireland in 1977.


    The Commission for Racial Equality was set up under the Race Relations Act 1976 in order to tackle racial discrimination and promote equal opportunities and good race relations.


    For more information on multicultural Britain please refer to the Multicultural section on


    The Sex Discrimination Act 1975, which applies in Great Britain, makes discrimination between men and women unlawful in employment, education, training and the provision of housing, goods, facilities and services.

    Under the Equal Pay Act 1970 women and men are entitled to equal pay when doing work that is the same, rated the same, broadly similar, rated equivalent or of equal value. Parallel legislation on sex discrimination and equal pay applies in Northern Ireland.

    There are two Ministers for Women supported by the Women and Equality Unit based in the Department of Trade and Industry. They are responsible for a range of gender and equality issues in Government and are sponsors of the Equal Opportunities Commission.

    The Equal Opportunities Commission works towards the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of sex or marriage, promotes equal opportunity between men and women, reviews the Sex Discrimination Act and Equal Pay Act and provides legal advice and assistance to individuals who been discriminated against.


    The Disability Rights Commission, promotes equal opportunities for disabled people and advises the Government on the working of the disability legislation. The two main pieces of legislation are the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

    Government's Policy on Drugs

    The Government's national drugs strategy, Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, updated in 2002, aims to discourage young people from using drugs in the first place and to provide support to parents and family members who are concerned about drugs.

    Within the overall strategy, there are separate detailed strategies for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

    The Welsh Assembly's anti-drugs strategy was published in May 2000 in Tackling Substance Misuse in Wales: a Partnership Approach.

    Scotland's drug strategy is set out in Tackling Drugs in Scotland - Action in Partnership, published in 1999, and in the Scottish Executives Drug Action Plan, published in May 2000.

    The strategy for Northern Ireland is set out in Drug Strategy for Northern Ireland published in 1999.

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