The Nationam Minimum Wage should be increased to a Living Wage. Photo: Getty
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We haven't yet tackled inequality; here are five ways to reduce it

The coalition boasts that it's reduced inequality, but actually no government policy in the last 30 years has actually come close to bringing it down to average OECD levels.

Inequality is now widely recognised as one of the most important issues affecting our country. Ed Miliband says that tackling inequality “will be Labour’s mission in 2015”, while Cameron Osborne and Cable have boasted that inequality has fallen under their stewardship. But no government policy in the last 30 years has actually come close to bringing inequality down to average OECD levels. 
 
A regularly used excuse for ignoring inequality is the country’s fragile economic recovery. The thrust of the argument is that “one has to think about how to grow the cake before one thinks about how to share it”. It rests on the assumption that high inequality is not only a necessary by-product of a successful economy, but that it is in fact integral to economic growth. The problem with this argument is that it is nonsense. Clearly some level of inequality is required to encourage people to strive. But there is increasing recognition among economists, academics and business leaders that excessively high levels of inequality, as experienced in the UK, are incompatible with economic strength. IMF research has shown that high levels of inequality makes periods of growth rarer and shorter. Germany, Finland, The Netherlands, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Denmark - the list of nations with higher GDP per capita and lower inequality than the UK is long, and shows that inequality isn’t necessary for prosperity and growth.
 
There is a widespread public belief, borne out by evidence, that economic growth without greater equality doesn’t help most people. People are told that the recovery is underway, but they can’t be fooled into believing their bills are suddenly easier to pay or that there is more money left at the end of the month. Some politicians, such as Nigel Farage, are already appealing to voters who feel left behind, with frequent references to the “elites” who oppose his “people’s army”.
 
The simple truth is, reducing inequality is vital to building a stronger economy. The Equality Trust’s recently published Fairer, Stronger Economy makes some suggestions:
 
All parties should adopt an explicit goal to reduce inequality
The first step in reducing inequality is for politicians to truly commit to the goal of reducing it. Each party should make an explicit commitment in their manifesto to reduce the gap between the richest and the rest. Whichever party wins the next general election should make sure they can be held accountable to that goal, by asking the OBR to vet their budgets to determine their effect on inequality. Last week Labour called for this to be the case for the Child Poverty Target, this must be extended to include inequality. 
 
The rate of the National Minimum Wage should be increased to a Living Wage
Our low wage, low productivity economy is trapping people in working poverty. The main UK parties have voiced aspirations to raise the National Minimum Wage to £7.00 or link its value to median pay, but more can be done. Cutting national insurance for those on the minimum wage and those who employ them can help ensure that everyone takes home a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
 
Accredited vocational courses should be included in the student loans system
At the moment all 18-25 year olds who pursue education outside of the university system get very little help with living costs, while those who go to university get up to £7,751 a year in loans. The student maintenance loan makes university more accessible to people from all backgrounds and only has to be repaid when a person is earning close to the UK median wage. The same generosity  - and respect -should be extended those who invest in their skills outside the university system.
 
The government should establish a Workplace Commission
As recommended by the CIPD the government must convene a Workplace Commission to increase productivity through measures to share more responsibility and reward throughout the workforce, “as if the whole team matters to success”. This could be achieved through better co-ordination between government, employers and skills providers to help create a high skill, high productivity economy
 
The 50p top rate of income tax should be reinstated
Our research shows that increasing the top rate of tax would decrease inequality without harming the economy. It is a popular policy that would mean the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden. All parties must now adopt it. 
 
There is no silver bullet policy that will both reduce inequality and deliver economic growth felt by all. But these proposals would signal a beginning. We need a transformation in the way we view inequality in order to turn our dangerously unstable and unequal economy into a fairer and stronger one, and we need this to start now.
 

Tim Stacey is from The Equality Trust

Tim Stacey is Senior Policy and Research Adviser at the Equality Trust. 

Photo: Popperfoto
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How the Oval regained its shape: the famous cricket ground hosts its 100th Test

The challenge for Surrey is to ensure that the new fans drawn to the stadium in recent years keep coming.

Few stadiums have as rich a sporting history as the Oval. After opening its gates in 1845, it hosted England’s first home football international, the first FA Cup final, and Ireland’s inaugural rugby Test.

Though it took 35 years before a cricket Test match – the first ever in England – was played at the ground in Kennington, south London, it was worth waiting for. WG Grace scored 152 runs, setting the tone for many memorable performances  at the Oval. Among the highlights: Len Hutton’s 364 in 1938, still the highest Test score by an England batsman; Viv Richards’s double century and Michael Holding’s 14 wickets for the West Indies before an ecstatic crowd in 1976; England’s Ashes-clinching match in 2005, when a skunk-haired Kevin Pietersen thrashed the Australian attack.

But just five years later, in 2010, the Oval and its host club Surrey were in a bad way. For the first time since 1986, the first day of the annual Oval Test was not a sell-out, and attendances for county games were down. Finances were so stretched that Surrey made a dozen administrative staff redundant, and there was talk of insolvency. The club, which is owned by its 10,000 members and is a tenant of the Duchy of Cornwall, was “very close to a substantial crisis”, Paul Sheldon, then chief executive, said at the time.

Today that seems far away. On 27 July, the Oval hosted its 100th Test, the third match of the series between England and South Africa. The first day was sold out. And Surrey are now the richest first-class county, with £12m of reserves. In 2019, work will begin on a redevelopment scheme that will increase the Oval’s capacity from 25,000 to 40,000, making it the biggest cricket ground in England. (Lord’s, the Oval’s more illustrious rival, can seat 28,000 people.)

“We are in a good place,” said Richard Gould, the current chief executive, one recent afternoon in his grandstand office overlooking the pitch, where a big group of local schoolchildren ran around in the sun.

How did the Oval regain its shape? Gould, whose father Bobby played football for Arsenal and was manager of Wimbledon when the team won the FA Cup in 1988, lists several factors. The first is a greater focus on non-cricketing revenue, taking advantage of the club’s historic facilities. In 2011, when Gould joined Surrey after stints at Bristol City football and Somerset cricket clubs, revenue from corporate events and conferences was £1.3m. This year the projected income is £4.6m.

The second factor is the surge in popularity of the T20 competition played by the 18 first class counties in England and Wales. Unlike Tests, which last for five days, a T20 Blast match takes just three hours. The frenetic format has attracted many people to games who have never previously followed cricket. Surrey, which like Lord’s-based Middlesex have the advantage of being in London, have been especially successful in marketing its home games. Advance sell-outs are common. Surrey reckon they will account for one in six T20 tickets bought in the UK this season, with gate receipts of £4m, four times more than in 2010.

Whereas Test and even one-day international spectators tend to be regulars – and male – Gould estimates that up to 70 per cent of those who attend T20 games at the Oval are first-timers. Women, and children under 16, typically constitute a quarter of the crowd, a higher percentage than at football and rugby matches and a healthy trend for the game and the club.

The strong domestic T20 sales encouraged the Oval’s management to focus more on the county than on the national team. Until a few years ago, Surrey never seriously marketed its own merchandise, unlike professional football clubs, which have done so successfully for decades.

“When I came here, everything around the ground was focused on England,” Gould said. “We needed to put our team first. In the past, county cricket did not make you money. With T20, there’s a commercial business case.”

To raise its profile and pull in the crowds, Surrey have signed some of the biggest international stars in recent years, including Australia’s Ricky Ponting, South Africa’s Hashim Amla, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and Kevin Pietersen, who is now mainly a T20 franchise player. For the players, as with the counties, it’s where the money is.

The challenge for Surrey is to ensure that the new fans drawn to the Oval in recent years keep coming. In common with many businesses today, customer data is crucial. The club has 375,000 names on its marketing database, of which 160,000 are Surrey supporters. But since the average T20 purchaser buys six tickets, many people who attend games at the Oval remain unknown to the club. One way Surrey are trying to identify them is through a service that allows one person to book tickets for a group of friends, who then each pay the club directly. Another method is through offering free, fast Wi-Fi at the ground, which anyone can use as long as they register their email address.

For all the focus on T20, Gould is keen to stress that England internationals, especially Test matches, are a crucial part of the Oval’s future – even if the business model may have to be tweaked.

“We always want to be one of the main Test venues. The problem we have is: will countries still put aside enough time to come to play Tests here? In many countries domestic T20 now takes precedence over international cricket. It may be that we may have to start to pay countries to play at the Oval.” 

Xan Rice is Features Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Summer double issue