UK is one of world's most 'unequal' societies


THE UNITED Kingdom is one of the world’s most unequal societies, with a poorer record than Ireland, Germany, Japan or Canada, according to a major analysis.

It says the legacy left by Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s has not been reversed, despite a decade of increased public spending by the Labour Party.

The independent report by the National Equality Panel, which was commissioned by the British Government’s Equalities Office, found that there were still “deep-seated and systemic” economic inequalities – but the differences between rich and poor members of the same ethnic groups are now more significant than between immigrants and longer-term inhabitants.

The top 10 per cent richest households have a total wealth, including property and pensions, that is 100 times greater than those in the bottom 10 per cent, while one in 10 of those living in local authority accommodation on the edge of retirement have assets worth less than £3,000 – little more than the furniture in their homes and the clothes they wear.

In the 1960s, the higher brackets of British society had three times the income of those at the bottom. This widened to four to one during the Thatcher era – a proportion that has not been reduced significantly despite 12 years of a Labour government.

However, the analysis does highlight some significant shifts, showing that women up to the age of 44 are now better qualified than men.

Women of all ages are paid 21 per cent less than men – but the gap is smaller at just 6 per cent between men and women in their 20s, although the gap widens again once both sexes enter their 30s.

“Within four years of graduation, nearly twice as many men have earnings over £30,000 as women,” said the academics, adding that only women in state jobs tended to enjoy significant wage rises after 30.

“It is sometimes assumed that wages tend to grow with age and experience. However, hourly wages for women are highest for those in their early 30s and lower for each subsequent age group.”

A larger proportion of Chinese, Indian and black African minority ethnic groups are better educated than their white British counterparts, yet despite this, they are less likely to be in paid employment than white British men and woman.

Nearly all Pakistani and Bangladeshi women do not work outside of the home.

On average, Indian Hindu and Sikh men and black Caribbean Christian men have roughly similar wages to white British Christian men; while male Jews earn 24 per cent more, but Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslim men and black African Christian men suffer a “pay penalty”, earning 13-21 per cent less than white British Christian men.

However, the National Equality Panel does point out that the gap between the children of migrants and white British are smaller than for their parents, and the differences between ethnic minorities and whites as a whole are smaller than they were a decade ago.

Rejecting charges that the report highlighted failings, equality minister Harriet Harman said that instead, it showed how difficult it was to counter social disadvantage and that it must be tackled by government actions “that last not just for a parliament, but for generations”.

“Much of what we have described shows the way economic advantage and disadvantage reinforce themselves across the life cycle, and often on to the next generation,” said the report’s authors.

“It matters more in Britain who your parents are than in many other countries.”