Attitude Polls such as this one from the JRF (2004) and this research from the British Social Attitudes Survey suggest that about 75% of the population believe that the income gap in the UK is too great. The graphic below shows how the difference between what people in the UK think people should earn in certain careers and what people actually earn.
However, although three quarters of the population think those at the top earn too much, only 20% of MPs support motions for greater equality in the UK – The latest news letter from the trust also states that 101 MPs have signed an early day motion on income inequality, while This link will take you to the current is a list of the 86 MPs that signed an equality pledge put together by the Equality Trust.
So here we have what appears to be a nice example of how out of step our largely unrepresentative democracy is with public feeling – untill you dig a little deeper –
The general public are deeply suspicious of redistributive policies – the public don’t like the idea of the rich getting taxed more and the government giving the money to the poorer – which is linked to a widespread mistrust of the ‘undeserving poor’ – which in turn is probably linked into myths perpetuated by media stereoypes about Chavs. So while people think the income gap is too high, they don’t want the government to redistribute income!
So one solution possible alternative solution to income inequality that isn’t redistributive could be a maximum wage? One model is that the maximum wage in a company is set at a percentage of the minimum – you could make it quite generous – say twenty times greater? That would mean if the minimum wage is say £10 000, the maximum is 200, 000 – to my mind anyone seriously arguing that they are worth more than that per year is deluded. One other advantage of this is that this would actually make managers and workers work closer together – a likely scenario is that if workers demand a pay rise – and they get it, this means the bosse’s pay would go up – if the boss imposes a pay cut – he’d also get a pay cut…..
However, despite the advantages, the only poll I could find on this suggests there isn’t any public support for this either…
So there you have it – we have a population that thinks income inequality is too great but isn’t actually in favour of either of the two major policies that could tackle it!
The next logical thing to do would be to discuss the factors that might explain this apparent paradox – Of particular interest would to explore how valid those polls on equality beliefs actually are, and how generalisable, and a second train of enquiry would be to explore whether ideology plays a role here – do we not want greater income equality because we all secretly (or not so secretly) harbour desires to ‘escape’ into the realms of the ‘uber-rich’?
Unfortunately I don’t have time to discuss this at the moment – right now I need to go do my lottery tickets….
Incidentally, if you want to add your voice calling for greater income equality – then click here and, if you like the look of what you read, sign the e-petition! Needs to get to 100 000 signatures – I was number 290 – so some ways to go!
Of course – expressing your opinion, as is usual in British Democracy, is about as far as it will go – the chances of this petition or anything else related to greater equality actually being converted into action are incredibly remote – especially given the social backgrounds of MPs, with more than 50% of Tories coming from public schools or being Millionnaires.