Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Mind the gap

A government-sponsored panel on equality last week highlighted that the gap between rich and poor is wider now than 40 years ago.

This is, in large part, an indictment of Labour’s own record. It came to power promising a fairer society. And it is likely to leave power having seen the rich get richer. It took important steps forward, such as the introduction of the minimum wage, but ultimately failed to put an end to the most obvious areas of unfairness.

Decades after women won the right to equal pay, women are still paid up to 20% an hour less than men, despite frequently having better educational qualifications. And while there have been real improvements in the educational performance of black and Asian children the continuing inequality in the workplace has not been reversed.

An obsession with individualism and the expansion of individual wealth seems to be squeezing out concerns about advancing society as a whole. The dog-eat-dog approach hasn’t led to a better, more harmonious society. The more unequal our society, the less we feel connected to each other.

The cause of equality may not be as popular as it once was. But we would do well to remember that there is a wealth of evidence to show that more equal societies are happier societies.

I find it morally objectionable that the wealthiest 1% own 21% of the nation's wealth. And for all the Daily Mail headlines about asylum seekers defrauding the welfare state, it remains the case that ‘15 times as much money is lost through tax avoidance at the top than is lost to benefit fraud at the bottom’.

British politics needs a renewed commitment to making society more fair and equal.