Social inequality is the extent to which there are differences between groups in society. A huge range of reports and statistics published annually detail poverty, life expectancy, unemployment, mortality and morbidity rates.
When referring to reports and statistics, it is important to recognise that each different source of information may have its own way of expressing inequality and compiling statistics. It is essential to ensure statistics are explained accurately and sources of information are cited for reference.
Income and wealth
Inequality is an issue in Scotland and the UK. Although most people would agree that society should aim to be more equal, complete equality within a capitalist society is not possible.
Arguably, what matters more is the extent of inequality, ie the size of the inequality gap between the most affluent and least affluent. Some political commentators argue that should the inequality gap become too wide this may result in an increase in social unrest.
Income is generally understood to cover a person’s earnings from their employment, dividends from shares and stocks, pension payments etc. Wealth includes income but also the total value of a person’s assets, eg housing, personal possessions such as artwork or jewellery, money in the bank, the value of stocks and shares, etc.
The Gini coefficient attempts to measure income inequality within a society and to allow comparisons between countries. Depending on which way statistics are presented, the nearer a country is to zero (or zero percentage figure) the lower the level of inequality.
For example, a zero (0) Gini coefficient rating represents perfect income equality, ie everyone’s income in that society is equal. On the other hand, the nearer a country comes to one (1 or 100 per cent) the greater the income inequality.
Trends in inequality – Income and wealth
Over time, Gini coefficient statistics show that income inequality in the UK grew in some years and fell in others. Before 1979, inequality in the UK was consistently below 30 per cent (or 0.3) which meant income inequality was not significantly high.
From the 1980s, income inequality began to rise, reaching around 35 per cent (0.35) until the onset of the recession which started in 2008.
For the two years of the recession (2008-10), inequality fell in the UK. One reason was many top earners saw their incomes slashed as businesses cut costs in difficult economic times. However, more recent evidence suggests income inequality has again started to rise with the UK’s Gini coefficient increasing to an all-time high of 41 per cent (0.41)
- In the 1980s the income of the wealthiest 10 per cent of people in the UK was eight times that of the poorest 10 per cent. (Source: OECD)
- By 2011, the incomes of the wealthiest 10 per cent had grown to earn 12 times that of the poorest 10 per cent. (Source: OECD)
- The 100 wealthiest people in the UK today have as much money as the poorest 18 million. (Source: Equality Trust)
- Inequality costs the UK more than £39 billion through its impact on health, wellbeing and crime. (Source: Equality Trust)
- In 2013/14, before taxes and benefits, the richest fifth of households had an average income of £80,800, 15 times greater than the poorest fifth who had an average income of £5,500 (Source: Office of National Statistics)
Rising inequality across the developed world
The UK has the fifth most unequal incomes of 30 countries in the developed world, but is relatively equal in terms of wealth. While the top fifth have 40% of the country's income and 60% of the country's wealth, the bottom fifth have only 8% of the income and only 1% of the wealth.
However, not everyone seems concerned with growing income (and wealth) inequality. In a speech in January 2014, Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, claimed that inequality was useful - it rewarded the most able and encouraged wealth creation.
In 2015, an EU report found that the UK has the most unequal wages in Europe. The UKs GINI rating of 4.04 was the worst in the EU and is higher than the USA.
Absolute and relative poverty
In the UK, poverty is defined as relative rather than absolute. Those people who are described as living in poverty have (in the main) the basics such as an adequate diet or somewhere to live.
What these people lack is sufficient income to be able to participate fully in society. People in poverty are said to be ‘socially excluded’.
There is no one single definition of poverty. Most official definitions use relative income to measure the extent of poverty.
The key UK government measures take 60 per cent of median income as the poverty line.
In the 2011-12 period, the amount of earnings before a household (adjusted for family size and after housing costs deducted) was said to be in poverty was:
- £128 a week for a single adult
- £172 for a single parent with one child
- £220 for a couple with no children
- £357 for a couple with two children (Source: Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion Report 2013).
Who are the poor?
The groups most likely to include people living in poverty are:
- Those without employment or those in part-time employment
- Those on low pay
- Those with disabilities or those who have long-term illness
- Young people not in employment, education or training
- People experiencing homelessness
- People in lower social classes
- People from ethnic minority backgrounds
Decision-making in Central Government
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'The UK can no longer claim to have a 2-party system.' Discuss
In the past few voters backed anyone other than a Conservative or Labour candidate, few MPs belonged to anything other than the Conservative or Labour parties and one party always managed to secure an overall majority. These characteristics led some to claim the UK has a classic 2-party system. Recently, with a decrease in the numbers of people voting for the 2 main parties, an increase in third party voting and representation, and a coalition government in the House of Commons, this claim is under scrutiny.
The UK can no longer claim to have a 2-party system because fewer people are voting for the two main parties. In the immediate post-ward period Britain came to be regarded has having a classic two-party system as few voters backed anyone other than a Labour or Conservative candidate. For example, the lowest proportion of the electorate voted for the two main parties in 2010 than any other general election since 1922. However, more people still voted for Labour and Conservative than any other party. For example, two-thirds (66.6%) of the votes in Great Britain in 2010 were cast for either the Conservatives or Labour. This shows that although the 2 main parties appear to be losing support they remain dominant in the meantime confirming the continued existance of the 2-party system.
As there has been an increase in the number of people voting for parties other than Labour or the Conservatives, the UK can no longer be claim to have a 2-party system. Smaller parties are picking up more votes. For example, in the 2010 General Election almost one in four votes went to the Liberal Democrats; their second highest vote share to be secured by the party (or its predecessors) since 1923. Also, nearly one in ten voters in Great Britain (9.7%) voted for someone other than the three main parties. However, in the recent local council elections Labour and the Conservatives won much more seats than any other party. For example, there are 2158 Labour councillors, 1005 Conservative councillors compared to only 431 Lib Dem councillors. This shows while there is some evidence of party dealignment at general elections, more recent local council elections confirm the 2-party system is still strong in the UK.
The 2-party system could be said to be alive and well in Scotland as the two main parties continue to vie for power. The only difference is the the two main parties vying for power are the SNP and Labour, not Labour and Conservative. For example, despite using the AMS which has an element of proportional representation, in 2011 the SNP won 69 seats, Labour 37 and the Conservatives only 15 seats out of a total of 129. However, third party representation in the UK Parliament suggests the UK is no longer a 2-party system. There has been an increase in the number of representatives elected under a banner other than Conservative or Labour. For example, in the 2010 General Election 85 MPs (including 18 from Northern Ireland) were elected under a banner other than Labour or Conservative. This shows that, despite a strong 2-party system in the Scottish Parliament, the 2-party system in the UK Parliament appears to be weakening.
The UK does still have a 2-party system because general elections usually produce a majority government. Under FPTP the country is split up into 650 constituencies with seats won on a 'winner-takes-all' basis, which usually returns single party majorities. For example, single party majorities have occured in every post-war UK Parliament except for 1974 when there was a hung parliament and in 2010. However, the 2010 General Election saw the party with the largest number of seats - the Conservatives - unable to win an outright majority of seats. For example, although the Conservatives won 307 of the 650 seats, they did not manage to secure the 326 seats needed to win a majority. This led them to form a coalition with the 3rd place party, the Liberal Democrats. This shows although the FPTP usually leads to a 2-party system, the UK currently can not claim to be a 2-party system as a result of the coalition government.
In conclusion, although the FPTP electoral system usually returns a majority government and there is still evidence of a strong 2-party system in Scotland, the UK cannot claim to have a 2-party system. With fewer people voting Labour or Conservative, an increase in third party voting and representation, and a Con-Dem coalition goverment in power, the UK can no longer claim to have a 2-party system.
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Assess the importance of social class in influencing income and health. (15 marks)
Social class is a very important factor in influencing income.
Income determines area lived in which in turn determines the school attended. Better qualifications = better chance of attending higher education = higher income.
Recession and unemployed graduates.
Social class is a hugely important factor and influences health to a very large extent.
Lower classes less likely to eat healthy diets compared to middle classes.
Lower classes less likely to drink in excess of recommended alcohol levels compared to those in the least deprived areas.
Ethnicity is also an important factor which influences income.
As a result of discrimination, many ethnic minority groups sufffer from higher unemployment levels.
Ethnic minorities are concentrated in working class jobs where all workers are low paid.
Poverty as a result of social class is often compounded (intensified) by the introduction of an equality characteristic such as ethnicity.
Health is greatly influenced by gender.
Male life expectancy is lower than female life expectancy. One reason is the number of males dying prematurely due to heart disease.
Risk factors for coronary heart disease are cigarette smoking, lower exercise levels and poor diet which are associated with lower social class.
Gender interacts with socio-economic status.
Critically examine the view that the US government has been successful in tackling political inequality in the US. (15 marks)
The US government has been successful in tackling political inequality through the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
Higher levels of those registered to vote maintained.
the overall percent is down. Although total number of voters increased, numbers decreased.
Success of increased registration rates of minorites as a result of NVRA.
2008 most ethnically diverse electorate.
the very low availability of registering to vote at public assistance agenices will ensure continued under-representation of the poor in elections.
The creation of 'majority-minority' districts through the Voting Rights Act has led to an overall reduction in minority influence in Congress.
More ethnic minority representatives in Congress but fewer Democrats overall.
the Voting Rights Act ensures equal opportunties to participate in the voting process.
The first Asian-American city councillor of Bayou La Batre, Alabama, was successfully elected in 2004 following an investigation into racially-targetted challenges carried out by the Justice Department as a result of their remit under the Voting Rights Act.
It is largely independent campaigns and party campaigns - not the US government - through registration drives that increase voter registration levels.
E.g. ACORN and the Obama campaign
laws passed by the US government have created fairer representation for minorities.
'Majority-minority' districts have led to an increased number of ethnic minority representatives in Congress.