Hardly noticed by most of the media, a new official report has revealed some of the deep inequalities in British society.
The gap in incomes between rich and poor had been growing for two years before Covid-19 struck. And it is likely to widen further because of the way the government and bosses have handled the pandemic.
Inequality in final income—defined as household revenues plus benefits and minus tax—increased by 1.5 percentage points between the financial years 2016-17 and 2018-2019. This is according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released on Tuesday.
This was because “the effectiveness of benefits in terms of redistribution has diminished slightly over the two years up to the financial year ending 2019,” the ONS said.
In blunter terms the benefit freeze and the brutalities of the regime that includes Universal Credit have held people in poverty.
The figures also reveal the gulf between the income of the top 20 percent of households—enjoying typical household incomes of £105,000—and those in the bottom 20 percent, on just £7,700.
“The richest one-fifth of people had an average household original income that was 13.7 times larger than the income of the poorest one-fifth after adjusting for household size and composition,” said the ONS.
Benefits and other transfers narrow the gap but it’s still a gulf. And it’s harshest for black people.
In 2018-19, the average income of Britons of black ethnic groups after benefits and taxes was 18 percent lower than white people. Excluding the impact of taxes and benefits, the average household income of white Britons was almost 65 percent higher than that of black ethnic groups.
The Covid-19 crisis will worsen inequality unless there is resistance. It’s already impacting on working class people far more than the rich.
People from poorer income households are less likely to work from home
Most managers and directors or IT and business professionals worked from home last year and are more likely to have done so during the pandemic, the ONS found. In contrast, fewer than one in ten people in lower-paying occupations, such as caring personal services and customer services occupations, had worked from home.
And poorer people are more likely to have jobs that expose them to infected people.
The ONS says, “Almost 40 percent of workers in the poorest fifth of people worked in occupations that have greater potential exposure to the coronavirus—for instance, care workers and catering assistants—in 2019, compared with just over 25 percent of workers in the richest fifth of people.”
The detail of the figures shows it's not just the poorest fifth, it's the poorest three-fifths where around 40 percent of people work in occupations that have the highest exposure.
Crucially, 51 percent of the richest fifth “were working in occupations that are estimated to have the lowest potential exposure to the coronavirus, such as accountants and financial managers and directors, compared with 20.3 percent of workers in the poorest fifth of people”.
Class shapes every aspect of life in Britain. And racism sharpens that class divide.