Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A broken society, yes. But broken by Thatcher | Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett | Comment is free | The Guardian

But the truth is that we are suffering the impact of the massive increases in income inequality under Thatcher, which Blair and Brown have since failed to reverse. In the 1980s the gulf between the top and bottom 20% widened by a full 60% – much the most dramatic widening of income differences on record. Since then there have been only minor fluctuations under Major, Blair and Brown. The result is that the gap between the top and bottom 20% in Britain is twice as big as among our more equal European partners.

Almost all of Gordon Brown's budgets did at least something to redistribute from rich to poor. But because the benefit was entirely offset by the unconstrained rise in top earnings, he can claim no more than having prevented a greater rise in inequality.

What happened in the later 1980s may now seem merely water under the bridge. But broken Britain is Thatcher's bitter legacy. Rather than having instantaneous effects, inequality gradually corrodes the social fabric. It takes a while for greater material differences to make the social hierarchy steeper, for status competition and consumerism to increase, for people to feel a greater sense of superiority or inferiority, for prejudices towards those lower on the social ladder to harden, for prisons to fill to overflowing under the impact of more punitive sentencing, and for people to seek ­solace in drugs.

A broken society, yes. But broken by Thatcher | Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett | Comment is free | The Guardian
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