The independent National Equality Panel was set up to examine how inequalities in people’s economic outcomes – such as earnings, incomes and wealth – are related to their characteristics and circumstances – such as gender, age or ethnicity. The Panel’s report, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, finds that:
Inequalities in earnings and incomes are high in Britain, both compared with other industrialised countries, and compared with thirty years ago. Over the most recent decade, earnings inequality has narrowed a little and income inequality has stabilised on some measures, but the large inequality growth of the 1980s has not been reversed.
Some of the widest gaps in outcomes between social groups have narrowed in the last decade, particularly between the earnings of women and men, and in the educational qualifications of different ethnic groups. However, deep-seated and systematic differences in economic outcomes remain between social groups across all of the dimensions examined. Despite the elimination and even reversal of the qualification differences that often explain them, significant differences remain in employment rates and relative pay between men and women and between ethnic groups.
Differences in outcomes between the more and less advantaged within each social group, however the population is classified, are much greater than differences between social groups. Even if all differences between groups were removed, overall inequalities would remain wide. The inequality growth of the last forty years is mostly attributable to growing gaps within groups rather than between them.
Many of the inequalities examined by the panel accumulate across the life cycle, especially those related to socio-economic background. Economic advantage and disadvantage reinforce themselves across the life cycle, and often on to the next generation. Policy interventions to counter this are needed at each life cycle stage. Achieving ‘equality of opportunity’ is very hard when there are such wide differences between the resources which people and their families have to help them fulfil their diverse potentials.
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