Eight emerging themes

Eight emerging themes: Inequality and division


The UK is relatively unequal amongst the richer G7 nations, whether assessed by income or asset wealth. Income inequality rose here in the 1980s and has remained reasonably stable since then.

Wealth inequality, similarly, started to increase in the 1980s and has continued to do so steadily ever since. Meanwhile, attitudes to inequality of income and wealth distribution are shifting (see sustainability – social concerns; and corporate governance).

Around the world, opportunities for skilled work may increase while creating division between those with access to high-speed internet connection and other technology necessary for such work and those without such access (see technology - communications). The drivers of change influence inequality but, conversely, the interconnectivity of nations means that inequality drives change. To take just a few examples: the “no one is safe until we are all safe” message reinforces that vaccinating against Covid-19 is a global challenge; combating climate change can only be done globally with low-income countries, least equipped to adapt, inevitably hit worst; and inequality and conflict drive migration from poorer to richer nations. Intolerance of inequality is, however, growing. Pressures to address both domestic and global inequality are likely to increase, and this will influence businesses (see sustainability and Covid-19).

The role of the state is a key driver of domestic inequality because political decisions over social security support and taxes are instrumental in addressing it. Within the workplace, legislation and pressure from internal and external stakeholders can begin to address inequality. In light of the success of gender pay gap reporting, there are signs that pay equality reporting more generally will rise up the political agenda. If we see a shift to the left in politics, we can expect both executive pay and minimum wage levels (see role of the state – state intervention) to come under greater scrutiny. Businesses should also prepare for an increased focus on the terms and conditions, including pay, of those employed in their supply chains (see sustainability – social concerns; and corporate governance).

The pandemic has increased inequalities (see Covid -19 – growth and prosperity). Emerging from it, terms such as the “New Normal” and “building back better” are bandied around, but it remains to be seen whether the opportunity to prepare for a better, fairer future for all is meaningfully grasped.