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Inequality in the United Kingdom in a Comparative Perspective

Inequalities in the UK

ISBN: 978-1-78714-480-4, eISBN: 978-1-78714-479-8

Publication date: 8 November 2017


The secondary analysis of the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) is used to examine inequality in the United Kingdom compared with other European Union (EU) countries and to analyse how inequality has changed over the period from the start of the great financial crisis in 2008–2015. The analysis compares inequality in market income, gross income and disposable incomes, and measured inequality using the Gini coefficient, 80/20 and 90/10 ratios. It includes an analysis of the impact of cash benefits and direct taxes on market income and how the composition of households in different parts of the income distribution has changed over time. In addition, inequality within the EU is explored. The chapter concludes with a discussion of what contribution the EU itself through its own institutions and policies plays in mitigating market inequalities. We find that the distribution of market income in the United Kingdom is comparatively unequal, but the UK’s relative position on disposable income is greatly improved, due to an effective system of direct taxes and transfers. The conclusions remain broadly similar for all the inequality indices that are considered. There is evidence that households with children have moved down the distribution between 2008 and 2014 and aged households have moved up the distribution in most EU countries including the United Kingdom. The chapter concludes that EU policies have relatively little impact on inequality and that inequalities can really only be tackled using national redistributive policies.




We would like to thank Yekaterina Chzhen, Kate Pickett, Peter Saunders and Richard Wilkinson. Any remaining errors are entirely ours. This study is based on data from Eurostat, EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (2008–2014). The responsibility for all conclusions drawn from the data lies entirely with us.


Bradshaw, J. and Movshuk, O. (2017), "Inequality in the United Kingdom in a Comparative Perspective", Fée, D. and Kober-Smith, A. (Ed.) Inequalities in the UK, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 119-145.



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