Over the past 13 years of the Labour government, the incomes of the richest 1 per cent in the UK have grown substantially faster than that of other income groups, as they also did under the previous Conservative governments from 1979 to 1997. But, thanks to complex redistributive policies, including tax credits, the rise in relative poverty that occurred in the 1980s and 90s has been arrested. With the exception of the top 1 per cent, disposable income growth has been similar across the income groups.
As Larry Elliott, the Guardian’s Economics editor argues:
During the Thatcher-Major years, real incomes for the richest fifth of the population rose fastest, averaging growth of about 2.5% a year. The next richest quintile did a little less well, the middle 20% a bit less well still, and so on all the way down to the poorest 20% of the population, which saw the smallest real income gains of less than 1% a year.
Under Labour, the very high rewards secured by the top 1% of earners has obscured an even distribution of real income growth across the five quintiles.
The new coalition government maintains that anti-poverty policies have failed:
… Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, made a statement trashing Labour’s record: “Vast sums of money have been poured into the benefits system over the last decade in an attempt to address poverty, but today’s statistics clearly show that this approach has failed. Little progress has been made in tackling child poverty, society is more unequal than 50 years ago and there are more working age people living in poverty than ever before.
A new approach is needed which addresses the drivers behind poverty and actually improves the outcomes of the millions of adults and children trapped in poverty.”
The following articles explore what has been happening to inequality and poverty and look at the policies proposed by the coalition government. The data on inequality are also given, along with commentary on them by the Institute for Fiscal Studies
Labour’s poverty record may be flawed, but the damage was done by the Tories Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/5/10)
The distribution of income: For richer, for poorer Guardian editorial (24/5/10)
What the poverty figures show Guardian Joe Public blog, Julia Unwin (chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) (21/5/10)
Data and reports
Households Below Average Income (HBAI) 1994/95-2008/09 Department for Work and Pensions(19/5/10)
Households Below Average Income (pdf file) National Statistics, First Release (20/5/10)
Effects of taxes and benefits on household income Office for National Statistics (see also, especially Tables 26 and 27)
Poverty and inequality in the UK: 2010 Institute for Fiscal Studies
A range of poverty data The Poverty Site
- What has happened to the distribution of original, gross, disposable and post-tax income distribution (a) by percentage shares of quintile groups of income; (b) in terms of gini coefficients? (See the “Effects of taxes and benefits on household income” reference above.)
- Why is income inequality likely to increase unless strong redistributive policies are pursued by the government?
- What are ‘the drivers behind poverty’?
- To what extent is there a trade-off between economic growth and redistributing incomes from rich to poor?
- Why is it argued that in an increasingly interdependent world, senior executives have to be paid extremely high salaries and be given very large bonuses in order for a company to recruit sufficiently talented people and yet wages have to be kept low to allow goods to remain competitive?
- Why was income much more equally distributed in the 1960s and 70s than it is today?
- What redistributive policies is the new coalition government in the UK pursuing? What factors will determine their success?