Fairness or inequality?

Is there really a difference between fairness and inequality? Believe it or not there are some things that seem unequal but when you look deeper they are actually fair.

Think about it this way. You give two people exactly the same amount of money one day and a week later they have different amounts of money. One bought a b and d but the other only bought a and b. In other words they started at exactly the same point but they made different decisions and ended up in a different place. They are no longer equal but the fact that they are where they are is fair because they have each taken the consequences of their decisions.

The challenge of inequality

Apparently one of the biggest concerns in the UK today is inequality. Well it is according to the articles on the RSA website. One article also mentioned that in the 1940s the social challenges that were of greatest concern were squalor, ignorance, idleness, want and disease. Those were  challenges that the government could do something about.

In the years since then they have made some valiant attempts at dealing with those social concerns. For example the setting up of the National Health Service now means that all citizens can receive the treatment they need when they need it. They have tried encouraging businesses to build new factories in areas where there were a lot of people who needed jobs. There have been slum clearance programs and new towns. Notice though that these are attempts as although they have tried they have not completely succeeded.

What sorts of inequalities are there?

One of those articles mentioned inequality of income. One way this is noticeable is the widening pay gap as those who are on the top pay scales have more and larger pay increases than those of the average worker. This does not seem fair as the average worker who has an increase often finds themselves in just about the same position when you factor in the effect of inflation.

Income inequality is one of the reasons why that there are so many people claiming Universal Credit. It is surprising how many people who have jobs are still able to claim money from the government to supplement their income. It might be for childcare to help them work or because they only work the minimum hours expected for their circumstances or because the job that they do is simply not very well paid. If someone is the main carer of a child aged between 3 and 5 years old and they are claiming Universal Credit they are expected to work 16 hours a week. It is difficult to earn enough to pay the rent when you are a single parent only working 16 hours a week especially if you can only find a job that pays the minimum wage.  Some households still receive Universal credit when one partner is working full time i.e. 35 hours or more than the other is both caring for a child under five and working part time i.e. 16 hours a week. No wonder some people say that the government is subsidising a low wage economy.

Geographical inequalities

We all know that there are some places that are known for certain things. There are mining towns and villages or should I say in the UK former mining towns and villages. There are others that are market towns where farmers bring a few beasts to sell on the abattoir. Places that have ports or factories that use certain resources available locally.  Notice there that I mentioned former mining towns and villages. These and some other towns that were known for industries that have gone into decline are struggling. In fact some have been struggling for decades.

Travel around the UK and you will find some areas where there are many houses for sale which has driven the prices down and down for years. There are others where prices are going up and up and have rarely had times when they have stabilised. Exactly the same house with a similarly sized garden can fetch £100k in one area £200k in another and probably double that again in a third area. Those kinds of inequalities are based on generations of differences.

There are some areas where it is a lot easier to find work than others. It is uncomfortable visiting some town centres because there are  whole streets of closed shops and others with only the sort of shops you would expect in a depressed area. It seems to take years if not decades to reverse the impact of closures that seemed to be the result of a few months of struggling.

Consequences of inequality

After living in a depressed area for a while it is easy to believe that economic depression is normal. What you see around you is normal for you. You get used to it and tolerate it. Yes you know that others are having a better life but you are stuck in that depressed area and you have to lump it.

Well not everyone does lump it. Some find ways to escape. They go to university or get a decent job in a different part of the country. This has happened for generation after generation in parts of the UK. Do you know what it does to an area when the brightest and best leave generation after generation? It reduces the number of very able people in the area not just in that generation but in the following generations as well. This means it is harder to find able people to run the community projects that are needed to help people.

I once visited a community project in an area where there had been a lot of outmigration and where the businesses that had employed a lot of people had disappeared.  It was an advice project and the lady who ran it said that at least 40% of the people who came to them for help were functionally illiterate. In other words, if someone sent them a letter they were unlikely to be able to read it for themselves. They had to take it to the advice centre so that someone could read it to them. Only then could they do whatever was necessary to respond to it. Of course if that meant filling in a form or writing a letter they needed help with that.

It is not easy to escape when you have a house that you are struggling to sell. There are some communities where it is common for a house to be on the market for 2 or 3 years before it is sold. Then when once you have sold it at a deflated price it is not easy to buy a house in another area where the prices were already higher before going up a bit more while you were selling the first house.

Not everyone wants to escape because they prefer to live near their family. There are all sorts of advantages when you live near your family. Childcare is easier. When an elderly parent is ill or struggling more and more due to age it is much easier to support them if you live near them. If you are ill it is easier for others to call round and check on you. There is a lot to be said for this kind of community cohesion.

Not everyone wants to learn to live in a new micro culture. There is often a new dialect to learn with new words and expressions or in Wales being surrounded by bilingual signs. You have to learn your way around, find new doctors, new dentists and find your way from home to all these places and more.  It takes time to settle into a new area.

Being treated fairly is not the same as equality

This journal entry only gives a flavour of the inequalities in our communities and the responses to them. It is extremely complicated and very difficult to reduce never mind eradicate inequality. There is a lot of work to be done.

Local colleges have tried to do their bit offering basic education classes for decades yet still there is a measurable percentage of people who are functionally illiterate. It is hard work encouraging grown ups to go a class where they can pick up the skills that they did not learn as children or have allowed to atrophy. Some have even stopped believing that they could never learn to read or write.  As adults they have an equal opportunity to improve their ability to read and write but unless they decide to take up that opportunity how can you force them into a situation where they do learn. Forcing them to try and learn could be seen as cruelty and hence being unfair to them.

Personally I am not sure if I like the idea of equality because it implies sameness or homogeneity. We as people and even places are different in terms of our history and our strengths and weaknesses. All should have the same opportunities as that is only fair but if people and places are designed to be different why is equality so important?

We are different for a reason and those differences need to be respected and even celebrated. We can use those differences to our advantage as the places that have beautiful buildings that can be made into tourist attractions have found. You never know once places have taken advantages of their differences they could find that this reverses the effect of economic depression and reduces the impact of economic inequalities.

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