Gordon Brown confidant Sir Ronald Cohen said recently that the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ could lead to street riots if nothing is done to reduce it. But do ordinary people care? And if not, why not?
New research from the Institute for Social and Economic Research sheds light on the apparent quiescence of the British public in the face of growing inequality. In a series of detailed interviews and focus groups, Professor Ray Pahl and his colleagues found that:
- People have much higher material expectations nowadays
- People are not necessarily well informed about particular occupational incomes
- People are not likely to be aware of incomes, even among those known to them personally
- People refer both up and down the social scale: to the super rich, and to people at ‘the bottom’ – people on benefits, refugees and asylum-seekers
- People explicitly refer to differences in terms of lifestyle – houses, cars, clothes
- People speak overwhelmingly in terms of individual career trajectories, individual lifestyle and an individual assessment of their social position