In 2008, the UK government set up a National Equality Panel to investigate inequality. “The Panel was asked to investigate the relationships between the distributions of various kinds of economic outcome on the one hand and people’s characteristics and circumstances on the other.” The panel delivered its report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, in January 2010. It “addresses questions such as how far up or down do people from different backgrounds typically come in the distributions of earnings, income or wealth?”
The aspects of inequality examined include: educational outcomes, employment status, wages and other sources of income (such as benefits) both for the individual and the household, and wealth. “In our main report, we present information on the distributions of these outcomes for the population as a whole. Where possible we indicate how they have changed in the last decade or more, and how the UK compares with other industrialised countries. But our main focus is on the position of different social groups within the distributions of each outcome.”
A major influence on people’s income was the income, wealth and class of their parents since these affected education, peer groups and a whole range of other life chances. This made it virtually impossible to achieve equality of opportunity.
The report also looks at policy implications. These include not just the redistribution of incomes, but also the more fundamental issue of how to create equality of opportunity. “The challenge that our report puts down to all political parties is how do you create a level playing field when there are such large differences between the resources that different people have available to them.”
So what has happened to inequality? What explanations can be offered? And what can be done to lessen inequality? The following articles look at the findings of the report and offer their own judgements and analysis.
Rich-poor divide ‘wider than 40 years ago’ BBC News (27/1/10)
The Big Question: Why has the equality gap widened even through the years of plenty? Independent, Sarah Cassidy (28/1/10)
UK is one of world’s most ‘unequal’ societies Irish Times, Mark Hennessy (28/1/10)
Unequal Britain: richest 10% are now 100 times better off than the poorest Guardian, Amelia Gentleman and Hélène Mulholland (27/1/10)
No equality in opportunity Guardian, Phillip Blond and John Milbank (27/1/10)
Has the wealth gap really widened? Guardian, Tom Clark (27/1/10)
Inequality in a meritocracy Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell (29/1/10)
Who wants equality if it means equal poverty? (including video) Times Online, Antonia Senior (29/1/10)
A Major miracle on equality Public Finance, Richard Reeves (29/1/10)
UK one of the worlds most unequal societies; report says The Sikh Times (29/1/10)
Only policies, not posturing, will bring down inequality Independent (28/1/10)
The full 457-page report can be accessed here.
A 44-page summary of the report can be accessed here.
A 6-page executive summary can be accessed here.
Click here for the charts and tables from the report.
- How can we measure inequality?
- Outline the findings of the report.
- Why is inequality so high in the UK and why has it continued to deepen?
- Have tax credits helped to reduce inequality?
- To what extent are greater equality and faster economic growth compatible economic objectives? How are incentives relevant to your answer?
- What specific policies could be adopted to give greater equality of opportunity? Identify the opportunity costs of such policies.