LFF readers’ message to Ed Miliband: make reducing inequality your priority

Ours is the latest in a slew of polls showing that voters are deeply concerned about inequality

 

In our latest reader poll, we asked what the priority for the next Labour government should be. The result was a decisive one.

A huge 66 per cent of you said that the priority for the next Labour government should be reducing inequality; 34 per cent said improving the NHS; 37 per cent said building more houses; 24 per cent said nationalising the railways and 18 per cent said the environment.

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Other recent polls too have suggested that inequality is outstripping even the NHS as the primary concern of the electorate over the course of this parliament. Last year the High Pay Centre conducted a survey which showed that 87 per cent of the public think it is important to make society more equal – even more than the percentage who think tax should be cut or immigration reduced.

And in October, a study carried out by YouGov for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) found that 47 per cent of people think the UK has become less fair under the coalition, while 12 per cent think it is fairer and 31 per cent believe there has been no change.

Under the the Conservative-led government, inequality has increased in several different ways, including:

1. Deeper cuts to local authority spending in deprived areas

This year, an IFS study found that:

“On the whole, it is more deprived areas, those with lower local revenue-raising capacity, and those that have seen the fastest population growth that have seen the largest cuts to spending per person.”

2. Cuts to tax credits

Low income families were hit hardest by tax reforms, which raised the number of hours a parent has to work to claim Working Tax Credit from 16 to 24 hours per week. IFS analysis in January found that tax and benefit changes implemented by the coalition have reduced household income by an average of £1,127 a year, or 3.3 per cent, and that ‘low-income households with children lose the most as a percentage of their income from changes implemented by the coalition’.

3. Tax breaks for the rich

The TUC found in 2012 that, under the coalition, people earning £150,000 or more were enjoying tax breaks worth more than the annual salaries of nearly eight million workers.

4. Benefit sanctions

The punitive sanctions system harms the most vulnerable members of society; a recent study suggested that 100,000 children were affected by sanctions each year, with 100 people verified too mentally ill to work reportedly sanctioned each day. There also have been troubling reports from JSA staff, who claim they are given quotas of sanctions to meet, forcing more people into extreme poverty. 83 per cent of foodbanks report that sanctioning is causing an increase in use.

5. Obscene executive pay

Directors of FTSE 100 companies saw their pay increase by 21 per cent over the last year. On the second day of the working year 2015, the pay of Britain’s top bosses had surpassed the average worker’s annual salary.

 

The list could go on, but you get the picture. The fact that – even with the NHS on the brink, a whole generation for whom owning a house is an impossible dream and the environment in unprecedented danger – people are still singling out inequality as the dominant problem should be the final word on fairness under the coalition.

Ed Miliband has been accused of being anti-business for pointing out that wealth creation will be better if the country is more equal, but he appears to be responding to an urgent cry from the public. The low pay epidemic that the Tories have presided over mean the poorest in society will feel immediate, real differences to their lives if they are voted out.

The Labour leader must show that he is serious about tackling low pay and the inequality it perpetuates by making it a key part of his election pledges. If he is slack on this front, it could leave the door open for UKIP to declare that they alone fight for ordinary people. Inequality is Ed Miliband’s chance to set himself apart.

 Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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