New poverty and wealth maps of Britain reveal inequality to be at 40-year high

17 July 2007

A new way of comparing poverty and wealth trends across Britain shows inequality has reached levels not seen for over 40 years. This is according to research released today (17 July) by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. A second report, published simultaneously, has found that the public believes the gap between rich and poor people is too large.

Researchers working on the first report found that households in already-wealthy areas have tended to become disproportionately wealthier and that many rich people live in areas segregated from the rest of society. At the same time, more households have become poor over the last 15 years, but fewer are very poor.

Allowing more detailed comparisons than previously possible, the report contains comprehensive maps which are based on census and survey data illustrating the changes in poverty and wealth across Britain from 1968 to 2005.

The widening gap between rich and poor has meant that ‘average’ households (neither poor nor wealthy) have been decreasing in number. The report raises questions about what Britain will look like in ten years’ time if trends continue as they have.

Danny Dorling, who led the research, said: “Most interesting and certainly unexpected when this work began is the geography of those households who are neither rich nor poor. Over time it has become clear that there is less and less room in the south for them; they have either moved elsewhere, or become poor.”

The second report, from Michael Orton and Karen Rowlingson, studies people’s attitudes to inequality. It found that over the last 20 years, a large and enduring majority of people have considered the gap between high and low incomes too large. However, people are more likely to think that those on higher incomes are overpaid, than to believe that those on low incomes are underpaid.

This report also found that despite most people considering the gap between rich and poor people to be too large, attitudes to wealth re-distribution are complex. The authors conclude that while the public believe economic inequality is a problem, there is no clear public consensus about how this problem should be tackled.

Michael Orton said: “There is evidence that a high level of inequality may cause real socio-economic problems. There is widespread acceptance that some occupations should be paid more than others: but the gap between high and low paid occupations is far greater than people think it should be.”

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