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: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.