Inequality in Britain is on the rise, bringing a host of social problems in its wake. Yet there are simple measures politicians could take that would tackle the issue and narrow the wealth gap.
Those are the conclusions of Why Inequality Matters, a new booklet produced by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class), a thinktank set up by trade unions to influence public policy debates.
The booklet advocates a series of policies to raise the incomes of those on the bottom and lower those at the top. These include paying a “living wage” to low paid workers, restricting the salaries of senior management and promoting trade union membership.
It calls for tax reforms such as increasing inheritance and property tax and cracking down on tax havens where the rich store their loot. It also calls for improved public services—though it stops short of explicitly opposing cuts.
Why Inequality Matters includes a series of useful and easily digested facts that demonstrate the extent of inequality in Britain. It summarises evidence from other countries to drive home its case that inequality creates problems in health, child welfare and social mobility.
The booklet draws its inspiration from the The Spirit Level, an influential 2009 book promoting equality by social scientists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.
Since its publication politicians (including some right wing ones) have paid lip service to the notion of equality—but done absolutely nothing about it.
Of course the Tories and Liberal Democrats won’t be won to any of the proposals laid out in Why Inequality Matters. The booklet is aimed rather at influencing policy debates inside the Labour Party.
Its publication comes in the run-up to the Labour Party conference, and as leader Ed Miliband tries to puff up jargon about “predistribution” into a Big Idea that the party can rally behind.
In contrast the Class thinktank wants actual redistribution—taking money from the rich and giving money to the poor. But it tries too hard to present these good old fashioned socialist ideas in a manner palatable to the middle classes.
At one point it absurdly tries to argue that inequality should be opposed because it hurts the rich too. At other points it stops short of spelling out the consequences of its proposals. If you seriously want to lower inequality, you have to robustly take on the vested interests of the rich, not appeal to their better natures.
The publication of Why Inequality Matters is nevertheless welcome. The booklet’s authors might be hoping to influence heads in Westminster. But the arguments it contains are better off directed towards building for a hot autumn of strikes, protests and mass demonstrations.