Income Inequality

The profound impact of income inequality

The ILO’s Bureau for Workers Activities is hosting a seminar on Income Inequalities, Market Institutions and Workers’ Power. Delegates have stressed that income inequalities threaten economic and social stability.

Audio | 10 December 2013
Income inequality has grown both on a global scale and within most countries. And this is having a huge impact on society, says Maria Helena Andre of the ILO’s Bureau for Workers Activities, which is holding a symposium on this topic.

“Inequality is a threat to social cohesion. It is a threat to social peace in any society.”

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation voiced similar concerns in a videotaped address to the meeting in Geneva.

“We know that inequality is a scourge on both economic and social cohesion. Inequality is growing between and within most countries around the world. And we know it was one of the causes of the global crisis.”

For Richard Wilkinson, a professor of eocial epidemiology, and the author of several books on this subject, the case against inequality is not just a moral argument. Inequality has negative consequences on such diverse issues as literacy, murder rates and mental illness.

Wilkinson stressed that health and social problems are worse in more unequal countries.

“Lower life expectancy, lower math and literacy scores, higher homicide rates, more people in prison. People trusting each other less. And the more equal countries – Finland, Norway, Sweden, Japan –are all doing better on those measures."

Delegates at the symposium said limiting the income of top earners would help reduce inequality.

“The bonus culture, the runaway incomes at the top are a reflection of the lack of democratic constraint on top incomes. We must build in that constraint. We must have more employee representation on company boards. We must pursue all forms of greater economic democracy, we must become more equal by extending democracy into the economic sphere.”

Other suggestions to reduce income inequality included a strong focus on quality job creation, the adoption of minimum living wages and progressive taxation systems.

Patrick Moser at the ILO