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Wealth and the wealthy

Wealth and the wealthy: Exploring and tackling inequalities between rich and poor

Karen Rowlingson
Stephen McKay
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  • Book Info
    Wealth and the wealthy
    Book Description:

    Wealth and the wealthy have received relatively little attention from social scientists despite a growing wealth gap. Aimed at a broad social science and public readership, this book draws on new data on wealth to answer the following key questions: What is wealth? Who has got it? Where might we draw a 'wealth line'? Who lies above it? And what might policy do about wealth and the wealthy? Using data sources from the HMRC to the Sunday Times Rich list, this book provides a comprehensive and critical discussion of these issues, and looks at potential policy responses, including 'asset-based' welfare and taxation.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-309-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. List of tables and figures
    (pp. vii-ix)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. xii-xiv)

    In recent years there has been increasing academic, policy and public interest in personal assets, and in the growing gap between rich and poor. This book brings these two issues together. Although they are conceptually distinct, they are also strongly related, with the rich having significant levels of assets while people at the bottom of the economic distribution have very few, if any. It is aimed at a wide audience, including students, academics, policy makers, journalists and members of the general public. It draws on debates from a range of disciplines including sociology, economics, politics and philosophy, and it touches...

  3. ONE Why wealth matters
    (pp. 1-18)

    Wealth in the form of personal assets¹ has received increasing attention in recent years from researchers and policy makers. This is for two main reasons. First, in the UK there has been an increase in policy emphasis on personal asset holding since the 1980s and a growing proportion of the population now own some kind of personal wealth. For example, 70 per cent of households are owner-occupied. This shift has been the result of deliberate policy change, from 1979 onwards, aimed at reducing state provision of welfare and collective ownership of wealth. We have seen this in the state withdrawing...

  4. TWO Why the wealthy matter
    (pp. 19-52)

    Chapter One focused on why wealth, in the form of personal assets, matters. This chapter explains why the wealthy matter. As argued in the introduction, ‘wealth’ and ‘the wealthy’ are related but represent two distinct sets of issues. Most of the wealthy have high levels of personal assets but some might be considered ‘wealthy’ (or ‘rich’) due to extremely high levels of income – they may be ‘income rich but asset poor’. This raises the issue of who might be considered ‘wealthy’ and we discuss this, in detail, in the next chapter. In this chapter, however, we argue that there...

  5. THREE What is wealth and who are the wealthy?
    (pp. 53-80)

    In Chapters One and Two we argued that there were strong reasons for focusing our attention on wealth and the wealthy. In the course of those chapters we used the terms ‘wealth’ and ‘wealthy’ without too much discussion, but these terms are used in different ways at different times and there has been very little discussion among academics about what these mean, particularly compared with the extensive discussions of ‘poverty’ and low income. This chapter takes ‘wealth’ first and discusses how we might conceptualise, define and measure wealth. It then takes the same approach with ‘the wealthy’.

    As argued in...

  6. FOUR The distribution of wealth
    (pp. 81-114)

    There is a very high level of wealth inequality in Britain today, far higher even than the level of income inequality. This chapter presents analysis of the distribution of wealth using a range of sources of data, such as the Wealth and Assets Survey (WAS), Family Resources Survey (FRS) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) (formerly the Inland Revenue) data from people’s estates. It compares the distribution of wealth with the distribution of income and then looks at particular types of wealth: financial savings, private pension wealth, property wealth and physical wealth. The analysis then considers the distribution of...

  7. FIVE The rich, the richer and the richest
    (pp. 115-144)

    In recent years there has been growing concern about the concentration of wealth at the top. But, as we saw in Chapter Three, there is no agreement about who is ‘rich’ or ‘wealthy’. Rather than allow this stumbling block to derail any discussion of this group, we use a range of measures in this chapter to investigate three groups. The first group is ‘the rich’ who we define as the top 10 per cent of the income/asset distribution. The top 10 per cent, however, do not necessarily see themselves as receiving high incomes. let alone as privileged or wealthy or...

  8. SIX Towards a comprehensive policy on assets
    (pp. 145-186)

    This chapter is the first of two that critically discuss policy responses to wealth and the wealthy, starting with wealth. Under the Labour government 1997–2010, there was much discussion of asset-based welfare policies but relatively little accompanying policy action. ‘Asset-based welfare’ was never a holistic policy on assets but focused on financial savings primarily for people on low incomes. Policy has, indeed, rarely joined up the links between pensions, housing and savings, and one goal of a comprehensive policy on assets would be to do this. Such a policy would also need to consider how more affluent groups are...

  9. SEVEN Social policy and the wealthy
    (pp. 187-218)

    As argued in Chapter Two, social policy researchers, along with social scientists more generally, have focused overwhelmingly onpovertyas a social problem. Research has covered this from a number of angles, including what poverty is, what causes it, what the consequences are of poverty, what the experience is of living in poverty, how poverty changes over time (the dynamics of poverty) and the ways in which policy might tackle poverty. Social policy researchers, along with researchers in the social sciences more generally, have had rather less to say about the wealthy/rich because they have not generally been seen as...

  10. Conclusions
    (pp. 219-222)

    Since the 1980s, there has been a major shift in responsibility for welfare from the state to the individual, driven by both Conservative and Labour governments. During this same period, there has also been a major shift in the distribution of income and wealth such that the gap between the rich and poor has grown steadily wider. The two trends are linked together as policy changes which have reduced the role of the state have favoured the better off. This book has explored these trends and presented new evidence and arguments in relation to them. But our main conclusion is...