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Five shocking facts about UK inequality

Updated Friday, 7th March 2014
In the run up to the General Election of 2015, Dick Skellington invites readers to consider some basic facts about UK inequality. 

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A cartoon showing the Prime Minister and a person down on their luck being 'in it together' While the political parties tussle over who better represents 'One Nation' politics, it is worth looking at some basic statistics which reveal just how divided Britain is. UK inequality has increased by 42 per cent since 1977. Rich Londoners live up to 25 years longer than those from poorer parts of the capital.

When you hear again, as you will, the tired mantra 'we are all in this together' from either the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or a Coalition minister, think of this. The richest 10 per cent of households own 850 times the wealth of the poorest. That is a quite staggering statistic. Before the crash in 2008 the gap between rich and poor in the UK was escalating. Today the problem is not just the decline in average living standards, but how the effects hit you harder the lower your income.

"It matters how the cake is shared,"  argues economist Will Hutton in The Observer. "The sheer unfairness of who gets how much is the first reaction to inequality, a challenge to us as moral beings. It is not just that so many incomes at the top, many times higher than a generation ago, are plainly undeserved and unrelated to merit; it is also about the multiple ways that inequality expresses itself. Your starting point in life and your parents' networks are ever more important in determining your life chances.

Politicians now 'indifferent'

Since the 1980s and the rise of Thatcherism, successive government policies have eroded the possibility of reducing the gap between rich and poor. Hutton believes politicians have become increasingly indifferent to the impacts their policies have on the inequality gap. UK inequality is now growing faster than in any OECD country. Britain now ranks 28th out of 34 countries in the "equality league table".

Hutton sees a Britain of "food banks, payday lending and quiet desperation. And at the top, an extravagantly paid elite".  Societies as unequal as Britain's grow increasingly dysfunctional. Hutton concludes:  "the inequality that drove the last crash is even greater now and, ominously, the same forces are abroad again. The recovery cannot hold unless we address inequality; our politicians must rebuild the institutions they have so carelessly trashed. Inequality must be tackled head on".

And, lest the Coalition keep banging on about "the deficit" while widening the gulf between the haves and the have nots, and at the same time harping on about "the mess they inherited from the previous government" way back in 2010, keep in mind that at current levels UK inequality costs the UK taxpayer £31 - £33bn each year in lost productivity. That should keep them quiet in the run-up to the election. But I doubt it.


This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.


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