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Wealth and health gap 'widens in Blair decade'

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Wealth and health gap 'widens in Blair decade'


Published by webmaster for in Communities

Tony Blair

Tony Blair's decade in power has delivered a large increase in inequality between rich and poor in both wealth and health, according to a report published today.

The document, from left-of-centre thinktank Compass, warned that massive rises in house prices and bosses awarding themselves above-inflation pay hikes were fuelling a growing wealth gap.

And it said that the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest parts of the country has grown from less than nine years in 1999 to almost 11 years now.

The Compass report Closer To Equality? takes up a challenge laid down by former Government minister Peter Mandelson in 1997, when he told "doubters" to judge whether Labour had made Britain a more equal society after 10 years in office.

And it found that, on the issue of income inequality, "New Labour has failed to make Britain a more equal place".

In a foreword to the report, Labour deputy leadership contender Jon Cruddas called for the party to adopt a new "overtly pro-equality agenda".

He warned that Labour's traditional support would abandon it at the ballot box if it failed to make clear that it was delivering greater equality.

And he said it was time for the party to consider "more progressive taxation policies" to restrain the rocketing wealth of the super-rich.

Today's report found that the share of national wealth owned by the richest 1% in British society rose from 17% in 1991 to 24% in 2002, while the share of the bottom 50% fell from 8% to 6% over the same period.

"In the last 15 years, Britain has moved from being one of the most equal countries in the developed world to one of the most unequal," it stated, adding that a process which began under Margaret Thatcher has continued at only a "slightly slower pace" under Mr Blair.

The Sunday Times Rich List showed that the combined wealth of the richest 1,000 has risen from GBP98.99 billion in 1997 to just short of GBP360 billion today, a rise of 263%, said the report.

It added: "The super-rich have, during Tony Blair's premiership, been accumulating wealth at close to four times the rate of the ordinary person."

Chief executives of FTSE 100 companies now earn 100 times the average salary, compared to 20 times in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the gap between the life expectancy of residents of Glasgow and those in Kensington and Chelsea passed 10 years in 2004 - for the first time since reliable records began - and now stands at 10.9 years.

And inequalities between the mortality rates for babies born to working mothers compared to those with middle parents has grown relentlessly since 1998, the report found.

It also noted that, while 1.6 million children live in bad housing in Britain, home-owners have on average seen a 78% rise in their asset wealth over the past five years.

And it points out that the Blair years have also seen growing democratic inequality, with the difference between voter turnout in the highest and lowest social es reaching 17% - "probably wider than at any point since the abolition of property requirements".

The report did record progress in reducing inequality in the areas of education, child poverty and gay rights.

But Mr Cruddas wrote: "There are also many areas of inequality left untackled and entrenched.

"Health inequalities, housing inequalities and unequal pay for men and women continue to affect people's day-to-day lives. Even in those areas where we are moving in the right direction there are too many exceptions where progress has not be made.

"If we continue to be afraid of the reaction of sections of the press to an overtly pro-equality agenda then progress will always be limited. And if we fail to tell the people who are benefiting from redistribution that it's a Labour Government that is helping them - then why should they reward us at the ballot box?"

Mr Cruddas said the new super-rich were "distorting society and recreating Victorian levels of distinctions as conspicuous consumption, obscene financial rewards and a new servant are returning after an absence of over a century".

He called for "social pressure" to encourage bosses to exercise restraint in rewarding themselves, and added: "If social pressure doesn't work then tougher action should be considered.

"If Anthony Giddens - the Blairite guru of the 'third way' - can advocate more progressive taxation policies, then the issue should enter the mainstream of debate."

Compass director Neal Lawson said: "Equality is the central issue of the left's agenda but in the crucial area of income inequality, New Labour has failed to make Britain a more equal place.

"We must stop being scared of the media, the CBI and other forces of conservatism and make the moral, social and economic case for equality.

"A new party leader and the election of a new deputy gives Labour the opportunity to make Britain more equal. Millions can't afford the opportunity to be missed."

Copyright Press Association 2007

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