The lottery of birth
The lottery of birth

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The lottery of birth

1.3 Is it fair?

Inequality constantly attracts attention because of the visibility of both the extremely rich and the extremely poor. Individuals, social commentators, the media, academics and politicians frequently debate people’s income (money acquired) and wealth (what people own – homes, savings, investments, property, businesses etc.) and the effects of the distribution of income and wealth on a society.

While most people would express the opinion that they would want their country to be fair, it seems that people’s grasp of the extent of inequality in their own countries is frequently poor. The following video, from the Inequality Briefing, illustrates this point in relation to the British public.

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In Britain, we take pride from living in a fair country. We believe that everyone should be given a chance in life to prosper through skill and hard work, whether as a care worker, shop assistant, soldier, civil servant, or company boss. However, is Britain as fair as it seems to be? How is wealth distributed in Britain today?
Imagine the total wealth of the UK is 100 pounds. Now, imagine these people represent the population of the country. A new ICM poll asked 2,000 British people how this wealth should be distributed from those with less wealth to those with more. As you can see, we think it's right that some people have more wealth than others.
In a really fair Britain, we say the richest fifth would have 25 of these coins. That's 25% of all the wealth, while the poorest fifth would have around 15. Even in our ideal world, some people will always have more than others. But we know we don't live in an ideal world.
So next, the poll asked, what we think is the actual distribution of wealth. As you can see, the results are quite different. We think that, in Britain, the poorest fifth now has about 9% of the wealth, while the richest has more than 40%. That's 40 pounds out of every 100. It doesn't seem very fair until you see what the real situation is-- not what we think it is or how we think it should be-- but how it really is.
We can now see that Britain is not such a fair country after all. The fact is that the richest 20% have 60% of all the wealth. That's almost twice as much as everyone else put together and 100 times more than the bottom 20% have. And the richest 1%, well, they're off the scale. In fact, they have as much wealth as 60% of the population of the UK combined.
As for the poorest fifth, if 100 pounds were the total wealth, they would not even have a whole pound. Next to the richest fifth's 60 pounds, they would only have 60 pence. That small change. This is the result of over 30 years of growing inequality. If this trend continues, it will be even harder to call Britain a fair country. Learn more at
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