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There can be consensus for tackling inequalities – we just need to seize it

(Alamy)

3 min read

We live in a divided land – and those divisions are holding back our children, our communities and our country.

This isn’t news, or even new. But what is now needed, more than ever, is for our political debate to move beyond an argument about the statistics to a consensus about the solutions. 

The depth of inequality now means social mobility has comprehensively stalled. There are growing fears that we are becoming an ‘inheritocracy’, where your success in life owes everything to your family, not your dreams or hard work. Inequality of wealth has accelerated so fast in this past decade that the wealth of the top one per cent has multiplied by an extraordinary 31 times faster than the wealth gains of everyone else in the country since 2010. That’s right, 31 times.

There are growing fears that we are becoming an ‘inheritocracy’

Just to compound the problem, an extraordinary change has transformed Britain’s wage-to-wealth curve since the 1970s. When I was born, the country’s net wealth was just four times national earnings. Now, the value of assets such as homes or pensions is worth almost 10 times the nation’s annual wages. That means those without simply cannot afford the basic securities in life – that home and pension. Without security, freedom is always in jeopardy. 

Yet, just when we need confidence in the big ideas of political leaders, we find faith in democracy crumbling – amongst young people especially. This democratic deficit is fuelled by the inequality of wealth: almost 40 per cent of us think that the top one per cent has the most power in our country – almost twice the number of people who think that national governments are the most powerful.

How do we overcome these growing divisions? Where do we focus our ambition to find answers? 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Inclusive Growth has been looking for those answers through a major polling exercise and an exceptional expert conference offering a provocation to political parties to provide solutions that they could deliver – and people would vote for. 

Not magical thinking, but practical thinking with cross-party consensus around four key concepts. 

Action to enhance the agency of individuals to maximise their power to improve their circumstances, through, for example, tackling health inequalities. Boosting assests would help. This requires us to enable people to share in economic growth, for example by enhancing access to housing and savings. An agenda for people empowers citizens to make the most of economic growth to get on in life, for instance, by transforming the quality of early years provision or technical training. A focus on place entails ideas to deliver on the promise of levelling up – raising the level of economic growth around the country with a focus on improving the quality of infrastructure, such as regional transport systems.

As the parties now race towards the next election, we need, more than ever, the confidence in ideas that will stand the test of time and prove durable for the long term. If we can forge consensus from division then we might genuinely be able to unlock a new future for Britain and forge, from a divided land, a more United Kingdom. 

 

Liam Byrne, Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill

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