Most people perceive the distribution of wealth in the UK to be far more equal than it actually is. In fact, for more than 30 years the gap between the richest and the rest has widened – and the trend shows no sign of slowing, as this animation makes clear.
By Deborah Hargreaves
Inequality has been rising rapidly in Britain for the past 30 years. The gap between rich and poor has widened and the share of income going to the top 1% has doubled (from 6% to 14%). If the growth in inequality continues at its current rate, we are heading towards Victorian extremes in the next 20 years. This brings undesirable outcomes for everyone – from the absence of social mobility to a division in society so large that rich and poor appear to inhabit different planets. And yet the public is largely ignorant of the extent of this growth in inequality. When asked to assess how wealth is distributed in the UK, many people believe the spread is much more even than it really is. We all like to think we live in a fairer society than is the reality.
But the signs are there for all to see. Owners of the multi-million pound homes in central London – often the international super-rich – may seem to live in a different world than those hit by the bedroom tax that penalises people in social housing with a “spare room”. However, both are part of the same social fabric. Our cohesion as a society is torn apart by the rampant growth in the gap between top and bottom. It fosters a lack of understanding between those at extreme ends of the spectrum, allowing a political debate over the so-called “strivers and skivers,” to gain traction.
This growing wealth disparity inspired us to create a film showing how the reality of inequality is so much worse than it is believed to be.
The trend towards more unequal societies has been driven partly by globalisation. A more interlinked world economy has kept down wages at the bottom of the income scale by forcing working people to compete with low-wage economies internationally. At the same time, a growing share of the rewards has been channelled to those at the top.
This has seen inequality rising across the OECD in the past 20 years. The UK has the fourth highest level of inequality in the OECD after Mexico, the US and Israel. It is going up quickest in some countries that have traditionally been the most equal such as the nordic countries and Germany. But here it is rising from a low base and has yet to catch up with levels seen in the UK and US.
The US has shocking divisions between rich and poor, and the proceeds of the growth it is experiencing at the moment are channelled towards the top. The growth of an underclass means private property is protected by armed guards. Housing estates for the middle classes are closely guarded and visitors are monitored. But there is no room for complacency as Britain is not far behind. This is the sort of society we are creating here, unless we try and head off the rise in inequality before it is too late. This film does not offersolutions to wealth disparities.
But only an informed public can make choices about the sort of future we want.