Britain's Great Divide

By Underhill, William | Newsweek International, August 11, 2008 | Go to article overview

Britain's Great Divide


Underhill, William, Newsweek International


Byline: William Underhill

After 11 years of Labour, the gap between the wealthy and the poor is as large as ever. Why?

Any supporter of the British Labour Party should know its guiding principles. Just look at the declaration on the membership card. The party seeks to create "a community where power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many not the few." Fairness is all. A child's chance of success in life should depend on ability rather than background. But something's gone wrong. As a resurgent Conservative Party now loves to point out, after 11 years of Labour government the gap between rich and poor is at its widest in at least 50 years and continues to broaden. Data from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that while the real income of the very rich continued to grow last year, the poorest 20 percent in Britain saw their incomes fall. Worse, the chasm between the haves and have-nots is no easier to cross. Social mobility is lower in Britain than in any other developed nation, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. A 2007 report from an independent research group found that children born in 1970 were less likely to have climbed the economic ladder than their counterparts in the late '50s, and there's no sign of improvement in recent years.

Such figures make for bleak reading for Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a longtime advocate of equal opportunities for all.

He has called these reports "a spur to action," and promised this summer to offer a series of new proposals to tackle the problem by the end of the year. Among the more likely reforms: giving additional aid to disadvantaged kids in their early school years. Brown has no time to waste. His poll numbers are steadily dropping, and his party's defeats in recent by-elections in the longtime Labour strongholds of Crewe and Nantwich and Glasgow East--a particularly bleak pocket of Britain that few of the young manage to escape--illustrate just how hard it has become for the party to come up with a message that resonates.

Meanwhile, if the Conservatives once saw inequality as no more than a painful byproduct of efficient capitalism, it is now changing its message and capitalizing on Labour's failures. The new-look party of David Cameron is keen to buff its image as a champion of social justice. "In the past we may not have always recognized the scale of the social challenges that we face," says Chris Grayling, the shadow secretary for Work and Pensions. "We can't just walk by on the other side of the street. What we are now trying to do is adapt Conservative ideas and philosophies to achieve progressive goals." A policy document issued by the Tories last week painted a grim picture of a segregated country where super-affluence and extreme poverty are both spreading, but with no crossover between the desolate, crime-ridden housing projects and millionaire neighborhoods in the same city. It called Britain a "divided nation."

The charge is hard to deny. Superficially at least, Brown's Britain still looks like a country where the accident of birth can insure a lifetime on the right side of the tracks. Schooling provides the neatest example. Despite soaring fees--up an average 40 percent over the last five years, more than twice the rate of inflation--parents clamor for places at private schools, and the figures suggest that's still a smart investment. A bare 7 percent of children attend fee-paying schools, but a survey last year found that 70 percent of the country's senior judges were privately educated, a figure barely changed in 20 years.

Who's to blame for such disparities and rigid barriers to mobility? Sociologists point first to some big economic trends largely beyond the control of government. From the 1960s to the '80s the number of white-collar jobs exploded as older smokestack industries vanished, making it easier for smart young people to climb into the middle class. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Britain's Great Divide
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.