We’re repeatedly told two things: that inequality in the UK is very high and also that inequality is a terrible thing, damaging to us all. However, there’s a nice little study from Eurostat which shows that all isn’t quite as it seems. The Independent reports:
The grim truth about pay and living standards in some the regions of the UK has also been highlighted by official EU figures showing that parts of Britain are effectively poorer that countries from former communist countries in Eastern Europe. People in Cornwall and the Welsh Valleys are worse off than residents of Estonia and Lithuania, according to Eurostat figures comparing wealth across the EU using a measure known as “purchasing power standards” – which takes into account GDP per person and cost of living. In addition, Durham and the Tees Valley, in the north east of England, are poorer than those in the wealthiest regions of Bulgaria and Romania, the two most deprived countries in the EU. By contrast, the Eurostat figures show that London is the richest place in Europe.
The impression we get from the usual reports of inequality is that we’ve plutocrats living in their gilded palaces while diverse Dives scramble for scraps at their gates. It is this that creates the social tensions that lead to that inequality being so bad for all of us as The Spirit Level and the like insists.
But as we can see from these figures that’s not really what drives inequality across the UK. Rather, London is a part of the Great Global Economy and the rest of Britain is a pretty middle of the road European one. We have regional, or geographic, inequality rather than that vertical pyramid people so love to worry about. Thus it’s rather difficult to see the transmission method by which the inequality leads to all those horrors that we’re supposed to associate with it.
That earning £15,000 a year while the people next door flaunt their £100,000 a year might indeed engender jealousy, envy, even stress. But that million of people hundreds of miles away have a better lifestyle than you and all those around you do, well, it’s very difficult to see how this can have much of an effect.
If it did have an effect then we would expect those in Kent to suffer from the lifestyles in Paris, those in Bratislava to be consumed with resentment at how well off Vienna is. And no one really does argue either of those things: so why the diference between London and Cornwall is paid any mind is very difficult to see.
Even if we do want to argue that there’s an effect the solution is still obvious: work to make all of Britain part of that Great Global Economy, not to try and strangle London to make all equally poor.