The Yachts And The Have Nots
If a week, or even an hour is a long time in politics, then a decade is a veritable lifetime, perhaps an eternity. However, we have just over a decade to realise the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2030, which governments around the world have signed up to. Including our own. And among the goals are gender equality, good health and wellbeing, quality education and reduced inequalities.
It would be hard to see what action has been taken on reducing inequalities in the UK, as income inequality has remained high, and recently the Trussell Trust reported the steepest increase in people needing food banks in five years, as 823,145 emergency parcels were given out between April and September this year. Some children are growing up visiting food banks and others donating as part of schools’ harvest festivals. This is deep inequality. I have often spoken of ‘the have yachts and the have nots’ - on one occasion with Richard Branson in the audience - but in a rich nation we are now talking about those who ‘have food and those who have none’.
A decade ago we lost the opportunity to enact the Socio-Economic Duty, Section 1 of The Equality Act. This piece of dormant legislation states that ‘an authority to which this section applies must, when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.” Along with Just Fair, The Equality Trust is campaigning for this Duty to be enacted in England. Scotland has already introduced it as the Fairer Scotland Duty and Wales is soon to enact it as well, leaving England behind in this progressive duty. Just imagine how different our society would look, had this Duty been in place over the last decade.
Over the past decade, income inequality has continued to be dangerously high, in part driven by the financialisation, which has seen profit-makers seek ever more desperate extractive measures to please shareholders in the private sector. Education, the NHS, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and even international development budgets have been squeezed to ensure that tax payers’ money can be diverted to private capital to fund our public services for profit. And we’ve seen the results of this. Hospitals closed before they have even been fully built, school pupils dispersed and education staff sacked when schools go under and infrastructure projects in the global south that are too expensive for local people to use.
But the tide is turning, as people are taking to the streets to protest against deep inequality, whether in France or Chile. Here in the UK, polling commissioned by IPPR has found that the public is supportive of radical changes to the economy and recognise inequality as a key part of the problem. When 66% think that companies should be required to share profits with workers, 66% think that companies should be required to have worker representation on boards and 54% think that companies should be required to share profits with workers, then there is significant support for progressive change.
In addition, 38% think the economy mainly works in the interests of people with high incomes, 21% think that the economy mainly works in the interests of big companies and 56% think the gap between the wealthy and the rest has widened too much. Any decision-maker who thinks that we can carry on with business as usual, is in for a surprise. The issues underpinning structural income inequalities are being openly discussed, interrogated and people do not like what they see of the modern day economy. Change is coming and we all need to play our part, linking economic inequalities to social inequalities and the intersections that both drive and result from these.
- Dr Wanda Wyporska is Executive Director of the Equality Trust