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Why Inequality Matters

Poverty isn't going anywhere. By: Paul Farmer, CC BY-SA 2.0
Poverty isn’t going anywhere. By: Paul Farmer, CC BY-SA 2.0

Should we care that some people are much, much better off than others and that this gap is continuing to grow? If you are wealthy, you may think that disparity in wealth doesn’t matter so long as you have plenty of it. Well, think again, rising inequality impacts us all.

Inequality creates a long list of problems most obvious at the poorer end of society where it restricts social mobility. Furthermore, the concentration of wealth enables the rich to exercise an unacceptable degree of control on the lives of others. In a free market economy, wealth is power and the wealthy have many forms of control over the poor such as how they work, what they can buy where they live and how they live their lives. Rising inequality creates a sense of anxiety and class resentment which forces governments to introduce inefficient regulatory measures such as trade protectionism and government subsidies, all of which will inhibit economic growth.

It would be a fallacy to assume that inequality only affects the lower class. Inequality damages the whole social fabric of a society by increasing social divisions and reducing the economic security of the wealthy. Extensive research into the field of health and inequality provides evidence that greater inequality leads to a worsening of the health of the general population: in the most unequal societies, mortality rates (including infant mortality rates) are higher, life expectancies are shorter and mental illness and obesity rates can be two to four times higher.

Ultimately inequality must be examined from a moral standpoint: In a decent society everyone should have the same access to health and education and be able to realise their full potential. In the UK we experience large and rising inequality and we are getting further and further away from the ideal. The challenge for decent people is to reverse this trend.