OPINION: Plug the yawning income gap

Lisa Harker, chair of the Daycare Trust

I suppose it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the latest Gini coefficient statistics received so little media coverage. Such obscure-sounding measures are very unlikely to capture the attention of newsroom journalists.

Yet the latest data using this measure of income inequality reveals a surprising picture. Despite the Government's commitment to reducing poverty, the gap between rich and poor is wider now than at any time in the past 40 years.

Is this another case of government spin being bolder than its action?

On the contrary. The Government has pursued a robust anti-poverty strategy.

Help for those seeking work has improved, benefit levels have increased and a new minimum wage and plethora of tax credits have substantially boosted take-home pay. For the first time in a generation, serious action is being taken to address disadvantage.

Despite this, it seems the Government's efforts have not been sufficient to counter the forces that drive income inequality. In particular, wage increases among the better off have widened the gap between rich and poor.

Even under this, government benefit levels have not kept up with rising living standards. Meanwhile, some groups, such as asylum seekers and those who remain out of work, still face a high risk of living in poverty.

The lack of publicity surrounding the publication of the latest inequality data might suggest that the goal of reducing the gap between rich and poor is no longer popular. But the Government's unwillingness to openly embrace a strategy of redistribution has swept the issue of inequality under the carpet.

But what should be done? Pursue the same course of action or demand a higher dosage of the Government's medicine such as higher benefit levels or better support for the jobless? Or change the prescription? The new Child Trust Fund suggests that the Government is willing to consider new strategies. But significant change will need more than clever ideas. It will require public commitment and that can only be tested through open debate. One thing is certain - simply ignoring the problem won't make it go away.

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