Economic Inequality and Government Redistribution: Perspectives from UK Economic Elites.

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Katharina HECHT, LSE, United Kingdom
The UK has become more unequal since the 1970s. Top income and wealth shares have increased substantially. The share of the top 1 percent of total income increased from 7 percent to 15 percent between 1970 and 2010. Over the same period, the share of the top 1 percent of total wealth rose from 23 percent to 28 percent (Piketty, 2014).

How are these recent increases in economic inequality understood and experienced by those with top incomes and wealth? In particular, how do elite ideas about inequality relate to their attitudes towards government redistribution, those who live in need and whether it is the government’s responsibility to reduce income differences between the rich and the poor? Due to the interdependence of poverty and inequality, it is important to understand how the advantaged perceive these issues (Reis, 2010). However, even though research by economists has demonstrated that the wealthiest 1 percent are increasing their advantage over others, there is little empirical research regarding how they perceive increasing economic inequality (Chin, 2014).

Findings from a mixed-methods doctoral study with 30 UK-based economic ‘elite’ respondents are presented. Elites are defined as “those with vastly disproportionate control over or access to a resource” (Khan 2012, p. 361) and conceptualised in terms of social class (Savage et al., 2013). Attitudes expressed by respondents in semi-structured interviews will be compared with nationally representative findings from the British Social Attitudes survey.

Specifically, the paper discusses whether there is (still) an acknowledgement of the interdependence between rich and poor, as argued by de Swaan (1988). The findings will be compared to Reis’ (2010) work on how poverty is perceived by Brazilian elites, assessing whether there is also awareness of social interdependence and feelings of efficacy to address inequality, but a lack of accountability to action among UK respondents.