The left has traditionally viewed the fight against inequality through the lens of the poorest in our society. But the stagnating real incomes of those in the middle of the income spectrum means we need to reframe it as a majoritarian issue, and tackle it with a comprehensive plan that attacks inequality from different angles.
The last two years have been bruising for progressive politics. A divided Labour Party looks further from power than it has done for a generation. The Liberal Democrats, diminished to nine MPs, are fighting for political relevance. The sense of growing despair across the progressive movement is palpable. Many see this as the beginning of the end, the start of a long period in the wilderness. Yet the need for progressive ideas has never been greater than it is today; and progressive arguments more in the ascendancy.
There is a growing consensus that the economy does not work for the majority of people in the country and that the proceeds of growth are unfairly distributed. Half of all UK households have seen no meaningful improvement in their incomes for more than a decade. (1) Before tax and government transfers, only 10 per cent of overall income growth between 1979 and 2012 went to the bottom half of households; those in the bottom third barely shared in the growth at all. Meanwhile, the richest 10 per cent took almost 40 per cent of this total. (2) This divide is not just about class, it is also about where you live. The UK economy has long been dominated by London and the South East. Successive governments have talked the talk of rebalancing the economy, but few have walked it. Consequently, the post-crash recovery has occurred entirely in London and the South East. In no other region of the country has GDP per head recovered to its pre-crash peak. (3) The gap between the economic fortunes of the South East and the rest of the country has in turn been put under the spotlight.
The myth that economic growth would always result in the majority of people being better off has been shattered. The idea that our economy does not work for all has gained traction across the political spectrum. It was no accident that the centre piece of the first budget of the first Conservative government in twenty years was a hike in the minimum wage, branded as a living wage. Nor was it a coincidence that Theresa May's first speech to the country as Prime Minister could have been given by a Labour leader. Or that the Conservatives, like...