The last nine chapters have painted a comprehensive picture of the distribution of income (and spending) in the UK. This final chapter draws together some of the threads from that analysis and sets out what seem to be some of the most important conclusions.
Interpreting figures showing the distribution of income is difficult unless there is something with which to compare them. What constitutes 'a lot' of inequality and what constitutes a little obviously depend on the criteria against which they are being judged, be they moral or political criteria or merely measured against other distributions at a different time or place. So to look at the income distribution in the UK in the mid-1990s and say that it is very widely dispersed, while being a statement that it is easy to make, is a normative as much as a purely descriptive statement. We have shown that the richest 10 per cent receive a quarter of total income between them while the poorest 10 per cent receive 'just' 3 per cent of total income. The ninetieth percentile to fiftieth percentile ratio is slightly over 2 and the ninetieth to tenth percentile ratio is 4.2. We have presented numerous other similar statistics.
But how unequal does this mean the distribution of income is? Again, the question must be 'unequal compared with what?'. The easiest comparison is with the situation in the past, and compared with the situation ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, one can say that the distribution is more unequal. For one thing that can be stated without fear of contradiction is that the income distribution has grown wider. This rise in inequality appears to have begun towards the end of the 1970s, and to have been particularly speedy in the second half of the 1980s. There has at least been some slowing in that rate of increase during the 1990s, though no clear sign of a major reversal.
All the evidence suggests that the experience of the 1980s is historically highly unusual, if not unprecedented. In terms of the