Inequality and why it matters – A local perspective…

Its impact

“The collective income earned by the world’s richest 100 people in 2012 alone could end extreme poverty four times over”  

“The richest one percent has increased its income by 60 percent in the last 20 years with the financial crisis accelerating rather than slowing the process”

Oxfam, January 2015

The scale of inequality in the world is quite simply shocking and is getting worse with the gap between the world’s richest and poorest continuing to widen. This situation is most dramatic at a global level but inequality is also a major issue within the UK – the World Health Organisation reports that the life expectancy of a man in the Calton neighbourhood of Glasgow is just 54 years, 28 years less than that of a man in Lenzie, just a few kilometres away.

Reducing inequalities appeals to our sense of fairness and social justice but it also benefits all of us as it has been widely shown that everyone benefits where incomes are more equal – high levels of inequality are linked to economic instability, more violent societies and communities with much less social cohesion.

The current UK situation

The average annual income of a CEO of FTSE100 company is £4.3m, the average UK worker’s income is £26,500                                                                       (the Equality Trust)

When judged on differences in income, the UK has the 4th most unequal society of 30 countries in the developed world.  In 2010 (the latest year for which data is available), 45% of all wealth in the UK was held by the richest 10% whilst the poorest 10% held only 1% of the country’s wealth.

Given the evidence that more equal societies fair better over-all we might expect that governments of wealthy nations would prioritise addressing inequalities, striving to improve life for all of their citizens.  Labour party members may not be surprised to learn that from a high point in the 1930s, inequalities in the UK fell dramatically after the war until 1979 at which point the differences between rich and poor started to widen again until 1991 and, since then, the gap has remained relatively unaltered.  Far from working to reduce this gap, cancellation of initiatives aimed at reducing inequalities such as Surestart, cuts to local authority and Public Health budgets and dramatic reductions in welfare entitlements, alongside an increasing focus on blaming the poor for their own poverty may lead us to fear for the future. Foodbanks are currently opening at the rate of two a week and the number of people provided with three days’ emergency food rose from just under 350,000 in 2012/13 to over 900,000 in 2013/14.   In addition, since the start of the economic downturn, the percentage of people who are unable to meet unexpected financial expenses has increased to 36.6% and the proportion of people unable to afford an annual holiday is now 29.7% (Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK and EU, ONS 2011)

The North Somerset situation

North Somerset is the 7th most unequal district in the UK – whilst some residents are within the 1% most affluent people in the country, others are amongst the 1% most deprived. Even in a relatively affluent area such as Clevedon, 2% of children live in poverty and the food-bank opens twice a week receiving 1-3 requests for basic food at each session and in Weston-super-Mare South the proportion of children living in poverty rises to 44%.  (North Somerset Council Indices of Deprivation Briefing Note).  This inequality has a dramatic impact – a man living in one of the most affluent areas of the district can expect to live an average 10 years longer than a man from one of the poorest areas (for a woman the difference is 7.5 years).

The council’s Child Poverty Strategy, which aims to reduce local child poverty by 2020, recognises that broader social issues need to be understood in order to do this.  It reports that:

  • Educational outcomes for those on free school meals at all assessment stages are significantly below other children and below the national average.
  • Levels of debt and benefit claims related enquires to the Citizens Advice Bureau are increasing
  • The number of Job Seekers Allowance claimants has risen more sharply in more deprived areas.
  • Demand for housing in North Somerset outstrips supply.
  • Transport for children in deprived rural areas remains a challenge.
  • Children and Young People’s Services are concerned about many aspects of poverty

What can we do about inequalities?

The scale of global inequalities seems overwhelming but there are things we can do both at a national and local level.

Louise Branch