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14/09/2010 - Inequality in the UK

EARLIER this year, the National Equality Panel produced a report that contained some startling statistics. 

Basically the report - An anatomy of economic inequality in the UK - found that the richest 10% of the population are more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society.

The report, which analyses the degree to which the country has become more unequal over the past 30 years, notes that both Tory and Labour governments have allowed this situation to develop.  

It will come as no surprise that it states the Tories presided over the dramatic divisions of the 1980s and early 1990s.  This is only to be expected – as the ideology of rampant capitalism was the driving force behind the Thatcherite regime.  Here everything was to be sold off to the highest bidder, no matter what the consequences.  Making money – and obscene profits – was the name of the game. 

However, the Labour Party - the so-called ‘party of the working-class’ – doesn’t come up entirely smelling of roses either.  An anatomy of economic inequality in the UK notes that on one measure, by 2007-08 Britain had reached the highest level of income inequality since shortly after World War II.  Remember, this was under a so-called ‘socialist’ Labour Party – albeit in the guise of NuLabour.

Some aspects of the report make for uncomfortable reading:

The top 10%, led by higher professionals, amass wealth of £2.2 million, including property and pension assets, by the time they come close to retirement.  At the same time, the bottom 10% of households, led by manual workers, have assets of less than £8,000.

When the highest-paid workers, such as bankers and chief executives, are added to the equation, the division in wealth is even more stark.  Individuals in the top 1% of the population each possess total household wealth of £2.6 million or more.

There are “profound and startling differences” between different areas of the UK.  For instance, median hourly wages in the most deprived 10th of areas are 40% lower than in the least deprived areas.

We view these findings (relating to both earnings and location) as very disturbing.   As a trade union we obviously fight for the best terms and conditions we can obtain for our members.  Therefore, we’re not opposed to people earning a good wage.  However, those in some professions – like finance for example – seem to be earning what amounts to telephone number salaries.

At the same time we are realists.  Not everyone is going to get the same wage packet.  For instance, an unskilled worker is unlikely to get paid the same as a skilled worker, technician or manager.  That is to be expected.  However, is it right that there should be such vast and wild economic differences between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’?

Solidarity is also very concerned about the significance of the area in which one lives.  In 2001, the government stated that “within 10 to 20 years no one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live”.  Tell that to those who live in the poorer and most deprived areas of Britain.  

More needs to be done to build a first class infrastructure for such areas.  If this means full-scale redevelopment – new roads, housing, schools, health facilities and so on – so be it. 

For us, as a nationalist trade union, national freedom and social justice go hand-in-hand.

NOTES:

The National Equality Panel – NEP - was set up in October 2008, 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 NEP forms part of the Government Equalities Office - GEO - a small policy Department, which has responsibility within Government for equality strategy and legislation. GEO takes the lead on issues relating to women, sexual orientation and transgender equality matters.  The GEO itself was created in October 2007.

On May 12th 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron appointed The Rt Hon Theresa May MP as Minister for Women and Equalities in addition to her appointment as Home Secretary.  Lynne Featherstone MP is the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Equalities).

The full National Equality Panel report An anatomy of economic inequality in the UK can be found here:

http://www.equalities.gov.uk/pdf/NEP%20Report%20bookmarkedfinal.pdf