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Tackling inequality - Government needs to do more
Politicians talk a lot about the need to tackle inequality in society, often seeking to address problems relating to low incomes, concerns about deprived communities, and the lack of life-chances for far too many people. Sadly, inequality seems to be increasing in most major economies, and the World Economic Forum has identified a significantly growing gap between the rich and the less-well-off.
Such assertions have certainly been borne out by report after report in the media.

A report has just been published by the Scottish Parliament that examined the impact of the UK Government’s austerity agenda. Looking at welfare changes announced since 2015, the report claims that those families on low incomes had been “targeted” by the changes, while families with children have been “hardest hit” by the reforms.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions meanwhile showed that more than 5,000 sick and disabled people have had their benefits sanctioned for a period in excess of six months. This has left many families struggling worse than before, with campaigners arguing that disabled people were “not receiving the proper support … to navigate the complex social security system."

There has also been a further report about teachers being significantly worse off – in real terms – than in 2010, because of years of pay restraint. It noted this was leading to a serious recruitment crisis in some parts of the UK.

Central government has obviously responded, bringing attention to some of the positive things that it had done. This included increasing the level of both the national living wage and the personal allowance. But these arguments are undermined by the continuing public sector pay freeze and a harsh approach to many benefit claimants and would-be benefit claimants.

Government claims about fairness and tackling inequality are further undermined by the news that it has launched a "secretive amnesty" for companies who have failed to pay the minimum wage to their staff.

In the last three or four years, many firms have been named and shamed, and had penalties issued against them for such breaches of the law.

But now, some firms are to be allowed to “dodge this process” if they “identify underpayments themselves and refund workers.”

Indeed, HM Revenue and Customs has contacted somewhere in the region of 3,000 companies, who it is thought might be failing to “pay the legal minimum,” and offered them the chance to use the scheme.

I fully agree with the MP who stated that it is not enough for “serious offenders to simply pay the arrears owed.” Central government needs to penalise those who take advantage of the less-well-off, and properly focus on building a fairer, more equal, society.

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By Dick Cole. Published on 15th September 2017.

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