Inequality Is Not Inevitable: When We Fight We Win

This is the text of a speech given by Dr. Wanda Wyporska (Executive Director of The Equality Trust) on the evening of Tuesday 17th April 2018 at the #WalkTogether to #FightInequality event convened by The Elders at the London School of Economics.

Infant mortality is rising. And it’s directly linked to socio-economic status. If you are poor, you’re more likely to lose your baby. Young women and girls are missing school and not going to work, because they can’t afford to buy sanitary protection, tampons and towels, when they get their monthly period. A man born in the wealthy area of Belgravia in London will enjoy 32 more years of healthy life, than a man born in Blackpool. We have 4 million children living in poverty, this is set to rise. We have teachers, police officers and nurses, professionals, earning above the minimum wage – going to food banks. This, my friends, is the story of UK inequality. Or should I say, of the Have Yachts and the Have Nots.

This is against a backdrop of a damaged social security system, providing an ever shrinking security net. The growth of the ‘gig’ economy, where people are stripped of employment rights and earn low wages, while employers divest themselves of responsibility, and cream off the profit. But we must not forget that while inequality harms us all, it hits some harder than others. An excellent report from the Runnymede Trust and the Women’s Budget Group has shown that in every income group, it is Black and Minority Ethnic women who will lose the greatest proportion of their individual income in tax and social security changes. Under half of our disabled people are in employment. Each year over 50,000 women are discriminated against work because they had the temerity to fall pregnant –many lose their jobs. There is discrimination in the Labour market, whether it is in terms of age, sexual orientation, religion and belief, race, gender or gender reassignment, disability or indeed class.

And as well as a gender pay gap, an ethnic minority pay gap, a disability pay gap, we also have a class pay gap – If you do the same job, with the same experience, but you happen to be working class, then you might be paid £6,800 less. We must not forget, that this discrimination in the labour market and elsewhere, delivers greater income inequality for some individuals as a result of multiple deprivations. And yet, there are politicians, claiming that inequality is decreasing in the UK. There may be a very slight decrease according to some statistics, within the margin of error, but levels are still dangerously high. If you congratulate yourself on bringing down deaths from cholera from 2 million to 1.99 million, then you still have a lot of deaths from cholera.

In our Equality Trust Pay Tracker report this year, we found that the average pay for a FTSE 100 CEO is 5.2 million. Which is 165 times more than a nurse’s salary and 312 times more than a care worker’s. Our UK Wealth Tracker found that the richest 1,000 people own more wealth than 40% of households. In the last year alone the combined wealth of Britain’s 1,000 richest people increased by £82.5 billion. And yet, we see the crises as unlinked flash points, rather than symptoms of the dangerously high level of inequality. Gender pay, the collapse of big businesses, the rise of underemployment and an increase in violence and racism. The rise of populism, where people are kicking down, attacking migrants, not those who caused and continue to cause their economic woes. We know that material differences create social distances. 

But in this week, I must pay tribute to People Power. As the descendant of Caribbean slaves, as a Bajan, I was horrified at the treatment of our Caribbean parents and grandparents. People who have lived here, worked all their lives and brought up their families here. And People Power forced the Government to change their policy. When we fight, we win. 

We see governments, funders, NGOs and philanthropists mopping up the chaos of broken lives, placing every more bandages across the wounds caused by inequality. What if we all joined together with those working on other inequalities such as disability, and said – we will not let this system ruin our lives and those of our children and grandchildren. What if we all really challenged the structures and systems at the heart of perpetuating inequality, to shift power and privilege in a massive transformation that would make all our lives better? Isn’t that a prize worth fighting for?

Inequality is not Inevitable. Privatisation, employment rights abuses, low wages, gender issues, lack of universal access to health care, damaging extractive mining, and lack of access to a good education for all – these are all policy choices. So esteemed Elders, partners of the Fight Inequality Alliance and brothers and sisters across the globe. Your issues are our issues. We fight your fight. Your struggle is our struggle. And your victories will be our inspiration. Today, tomorrow and into the future, we will Walk Together to Fight Inequality. 

Thank you.