Inequality in UK at highest since pre-WW2

A social sciences expert from the University of Sheffield says inequality in the UK is at its highest since before the Second World War.

InequalityProfessor Danny Dorling of the University’s Department of Geography, an expert in inequality, says the richest one per cent of people in the UK take home fifteen per cent of all income, compared to six per cent in 1979.

Professor Dorling, who is presenting the Royal Statistical Society’s Beveridge Memorial Lecture on Wednesday, 27 June 2012, said: “If we look back about 100 years, we can see that inequality in the UK did drop significantly in the 70 years from 1910-1979. More than half of that drop in inequality took place prior to 1939. Since 1979 these inequalities have risen dramatically and continue to rise.

“The last time the best-off took as big a share of all income as they do today was in 1940, two years before the publication of the Beveridge Report, which became the basis of the UK’s welfare state after the Second World War.”

Professor Danny Dorling’s research focuses on improving the understanding of the changing social, political and medical geographies of Britain and further afield, concentrating on social and spatial inequalities to life chances and how these may be narrowed.

He has also written and edited a number of influential books in the field of social inequality, including You Think You Know About Britain? and more recently Fair Play: A Reader on Social Justice.

Professor Dorling added: “Even looking at the next-most well-off people, the gap between them and the richest is growing. In the early 1940s, the ‘nine per cent’ - the rest of the best-off ten per cent less the richest one per cent - were paid an average salary of 2.4 times average incomes, the same as in 1959, 1969 and 1973. But as inequalities rose, by 1990 this ‘nine per cent’ were paid three times average incomes and that continued until 2007.

“However, for the last five years their share has been dropping towards that 2.4 historic average. As each year passes, and the richest one per cent get richer still, the rest of the best-off ten per cent increasingly have a little more in common with the remaining nine-tenths of society, and less and less in common with those at the very top.

“Inequalities are complex statistics. But the harm that comes from living with the consequences of great inequality is often more easily understood. What may not be so well appreciated is how recently the divide between just one per cent of people and the remainder has rapidly grown to be so stark, and how more people are all in it together as a consequence.”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, and 2007).

These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world. The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.


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Paul Mannion

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The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9851