The COVID pandemic has increased public awareness of the level of inequality in our society, and of the impact that this has on people's living standards and even on life expectancy. This level of inequality is not only the result of varying degrees of talent and effort; it is mostly due to people having very different life chances and opportunities to make the most of their talents, and so it is unfair. We see this unfairness in every aspect of society and the economy, from democracy, education, the environment, health and housing, to justice, social security, taxation, wealth and work.
Most people recognise that the society we live in is increasingly unfair. The majority of people believe that everyone should have the same opportunities to succeed, and that social and economic inequalities have become so stark that this is often no longer possible. The COVID pandemic has shown us just how unequal our society has become, and what this means not just for people’s life chances, but even for their prospects of survival. People are increasingly concerned about inequalities based on income and wealth and on where people live (i.e. place-based inequalities, which is the focus of the government’s current ‘levelling up’ agenda), although many people appear to be less concerned about inequalities based on race, gender and other personal characteristics. But we know that racial inequalities are huge, partly but not only because of discrimination, while gender and economic inequalities are deeply intertwined.
When looking at fairness across society (and the economy), we focus on ten interrelated issues that we believe are priorities for action, and demonstrate how far we are from a fair society:
Those with money and connections have a growing and disproportionate influence over how decisions are made, while the disadvantaged are increasingly disenfranchised
Schools are unable to give children an equal start in life, especially in the early years
Future generations will pay for climate inaction in the next decade, while the poorest are already bearing the brunt of exposure to pollution and other environmental harms (and while this is a global issue, there is an urgent need for domestic action and leadership)
Despite our amazing NHS, our public health system is underpowered to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent ill health, while high inequality leads to disease and early death
Millions are unable to find decent and affordable housing
The justice system punishes poverty (and its symptoms, such as mental health problems and substance addiction) rather than helping people to rehabilitate into society
Too many in genuine need are getting a raw deal and are unable to live lives of reasonable comfort, dignity and security
The wealthiest in society pay a lower rate of tax (including all taxes) than everyone else, because of a combination of tax avoidance and the absence of effective taxes on wealth
Millions can’t get by while those at the top continue to amass ever more wealth with little link to their own efforts or success, and inherited wealth further entrenches the divide
Millions are forced to work in insecure jobs that don’t pay them enough to cover the bills, with poor working conditions and inadequate employment rights