Social Trends 41 – Income inequality in the UK – updates

Wealth and income data is one of the most important things that Sociology students should keep an eye on – in fact I think everyone should keep an eye on this data, bearing in mind its limitations of course!

All of the data below is taken from the ‘wealth and income’ chapter of  Social Trends 41 – published in 2011 (so if you want updates for next year type in ‘Social Trends 42’ to Google and you should get a link straight there!).

Trend 1 – we are 2.5 times richer today than in 1970

We are richer in terms of both ‘GDP’ – or Gross Domestic Product – which is the total value of goods and services produced in the UK in a given year, and in terms of real disposable income which is the post tax and benefit income available to households after an adjustment has been made for price changes.

The chart above demonstrates the beauty of Official Statistics – ‘cos we’re dealing with numbers, you can get a snap shot indicator of how much wealthier we are today than in the past (or poorer if you take the last two years). Also note the ‘official’ bit – the government is one of the few institutions that can maintain such an enormous task of data collection over several decades – what other institution could reliably collate figures on GDP?

Having said this – there are several things these wealth figures do not show us just one of these things is ‘income distribution – and if you look at the table below, you’ll notice 2 things – 

(Trends 2 and 3) – Firstly that the richest 10% are four times richer than the bottom 10% – and secondly that the richest 10% have got richer quicker than the median and poorest 10%

Distribution of real household income

Breaking this down even further – we have the chart below – which shows us that there is a much greater concentration of people at lower levels of weekly income, with nearly two-thirds of individuals living in households with disposable weekly income lower than the mean. There is a long ‘tail’ of people at the higher end of the distribution with an estimated 6 per cent of individuals (or 3.7 million people) living in households with disposable incomes of £1,000 per week or more.

NB – These are precisely the kind of people that will send their children to private school (7% of children go to private school) – if you did not go to private school – you will probably never be one of these people!!!

Looked at another way – there is approximately 15% of the population – or about 13 million individuals living below the Government’s own poverty line of 60% of median income. This basically means you have enough to survive week to week, and have little money left for luxuries or a social life. (Note – The government’s own analysis in social trends doesn’t actually mention this – you need to look at the further analysis done by the excellent Joseph Rowntree Foundation).

Trend 4 It’s also worth quickly looking at who is in poverty – People living in lone parent households and pensioners living alone were more concentrated at the lower end of the income distribution (39 per cent and 27 per cent respectively in the lowest fifth).

As a very final comment its worth mentioning that this whole chapter of Social Trends could be regarded as ideologically biased – its not as if the government can hide the vast income and wealth inequalities – but it does a fairly good job of making them seem berable – because of its limited interpretation of the stats and because it doesn’t spend too long talking about wealth distribution – where the disparities in the UK are far greater! I’ll post later with other sources that put a somewhat darker spin on wealth and income inequalities in the UK



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