Homelessness, Social commentary

Inequality is bad for EVERYBODY: its time to close the gap

Pope FrancisEvery day I am struck by the incredible inequality on display in the West End of London.  I get off the bus outside Selfridge’s and see the £5,000+ designer handbags in the windows.  I walk through Marylebone past the exclusive clubs and restaurants such as the Chiltern Firehouse with security guards and paparazzi outside.  Every few minutes, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and McClarens roar past ostentatiously displaying the wealth of their owners.

But in the very same neighbourhood, the Day Centre run by the West London Mission sees a hundred homeless people every day.  These are people at the opposite end of the wealth spectrum – people who sleep rough under doorways, in parks or on night buses. At our centre they can get the very basics: a good value breakfast, showers and access to medical care.  And last year we helped over 300 homeless people come off the streets.

Gross inequality

The West End of London might be the playground of the ultra-rich but is also is the home, by a long way, of the largest population of rough sleepers in Britain today.  It is a concentrated geographical microcosm of the gross inequalities which affect the whole country.

London’s Evening Standard newspaper regularly illustrates this sharp divide.  In yesterday’s edition, an article titled Murdoch’s daughter buys home for £38.5m drooled about the heiress’ new house in St John’s Wood with its seven bedrooms and “a reception hall as big as some entire London flats”.

But at the bottom of the page, a far shorter article focussed on the rising numbers of rough sleepers in Westminster.  It was hardly sympathetic to their plight.  Instead, the journalists chose to focus on quoting complaints from local businesses that the rise in rough sleeping has “turned Park Lane into a slum”.

Hurting us all

The UK generates great wealth, but it is distributed increasingly unequally. During our years of growing prosperity, the vast majority of our increased wealth went to those who were already rich – while the poor actually became poorer.  This is neither just nor sustainable.

But this is not just an issue for those who care about social justice.  We should all care about inequality because it hurts us all.  The massive gap between the rich and the poor is bad for all of us.

Related social problems

The seminal book, The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, powerfully showed that all kinds of social problems are directly related to income inequality in developed nations. In countries where the gap between rich and poor is at its widest, mental illness, obesity, imprisonment, mistrust, low social mobility and many other social problems are all worse than in countries with more equal societies.

This is true for everyone in society, not just the lowest earners. So a wealthy person in the UK is more likely to suffer from health problems or be a victim of crime than they would be in a country which was equally affluent but had a smaller gap between rich and poor.

close-the-gap-logoThe growing gap between the rich and the poor impoverishes us all.  We have to close the gap.

This post is part of the global Blog Action Day on inequality

4 thoughts on “Inequality is bad for EVERYBODY: its time to close the gap”

  1. Tragically we seem to be heading back into the world of the Victorians, when a street or so away from the Chiltern Firehouse stood the Marylebone Workhouse (how long before they bring those back?). I would love to set MPs a reading list of works like “Around about a pound a week”, “Mary Barton” and some Dickens and maybe “Love on the Dole”. With a covering letter reminding them that we are heading back that way.


  2. Inequality does hurt us all – good point. I agree with Stephanie – we do seem to be heading back to some bad times of extremes of wealth with extremes of poverty. To change this does mean getting involved in political campaigning as well as charitable giving and charity work. And perhaps more of us being willing to ‘live simply that others may simply live’.


  3. I am not sure I agree with the history of Stephanie and Nancy but I agree with their sentiments. The Victorian era was the era of a great surge towards a more equal distribution of wealth. Poverty got far more compressed as the poor were herded into cities but poverty in the rural areas had been appalling before then. The great surge in a more equal distribution of wealth can be seen in the astonishing growth in the leisure industry. Before Victoria, leisure was what only the aristocracy and landed gentry could indulge in. But the end of the 19C, the seaside holiday, attendance at sporting events and similar things were for not only the hugely expanding middle class but even for the masses. And yet both the post and the responses are right about today; inequality today is growing, not perhaps internationally where poverty is actually lessening, but certainly here. Something is very wrong with us. Inequality feeds all kinds of ills. Neo-liberalism sometimes implies that inequality drives wealth creation. I think it drives corruption more than wealth and corruption in turn drives inequality. Recent idolatry of the so-called wealth creators, i.e. the entrepreneur, by both Labour and Conservative ignores the extent to which entrepreneurs are inclined towards corruption.


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