current affairs equality wealth

Britain’s unequal society

The richest 10% of British people are 100 times wealthier than the poorest 10%, new government research shows. The household wealth of the top decile of UK society is £853,000, while the poorest hold just £8,800.

The findings were published this morning by the National Equality Panel, an independent government body tasked with analysing the gap between rich and poor. Gordon Brown described the results as”sobering”.

An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK is a groundbreaking report, and it reflects a growing recognition that equality is vital to the health of society. It highlights some striking inequalities. Black African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani men earn 13-21% less than white men with the same qualifications. The median income for women is 21% lower than for men. Social mobility is also a problem: “economic advantage reinforces itself across the life cycle, and on to the next generation” says the report. “It matters more in Britain who your parents are than in many other countries.”

Just as the number of people living in relative poverty rose under the Conservatives and then more or less flatlined under Labour, levels of inequality have not fallen. Using the Gini coefficient as an index (where 0 is absolute equality, and 1oo is absolute inequality), gross incomes have moved from 30 in 1977, to 38 in 2008. By way of comparison, Japan and Denmark score around 24, and the US, Turkmenistan and Cambodia score around 40. You’d have to be a corrupt petro-state to head north of 60, which is why those countries don’t keep figures.

Today Gordon Brown promised to “forge a stronger, fairer and more inclusive Britain”, and said that it was the duty of government to ensure that the modest return to growth that was announced yesterday would be “a tide that lifts everyone, equally.” As we’ve shown before, it is impossible to grow your way to equality, so I hope the government will apply some creative thinking to what they have discovered. For today however, this is a welcome contribution to one of society’s most vital debates.

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