Written by Professor Richard Harris, Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol
“Gap between Britain’s rich and poor now wider than ever” (Headline: The i, March 14, 2016)
An important area of social and economic research is economic inequality between people and places, and the sense it is growing. Two reports from Oxfam have made the headlines. The first said that the combined wealth of the worldwide richest 1 per cent is equal to the total for the remaining 99 per cent. A second said that the richest 1 per cent of Britons has received more than one-quarter of the £4 trillion increase in national wealth since the year 2000.
What the reports claim is that there is a growing gap between the wealthiest individuals and the rest. This is not to say that the differences between countries are growing also. In fact, the UN Millennium Development Goals Report (2014) says, “in 1990, almost half of the population in developing regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate dropped to 22 per cent by 2010, reducing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 700 million. There is a long way to go before extreme poverty is eliminated and all people can claim their right to food, safe drinking water, shelter, protection from violence, and the opportunity for employment. Yet, significant progress has been made. Nevertheless, whereas inequalities between countries seem to be decreasing, those within countries are said to be expanding, with some commentators voicing concern that the gap between the wealthiest and the poorest has become too great.
The purpose of this report is not to take a political position on the national and international policies that, depending upon your point-of-view (and who you read), fuel or restrain social and economic inequalities; nor about whether economic inequality is an unfortunate but better-than-the-alternative by-product of trade and economic growth.
Instead, this report takes inequality, and data about it, as a context for discussing a number of statistical ideas and concepts, understandings of which are important not just for geography but across the sciences, social sciences and humanities. The case for why knowledge of quantitative methods is important for geographers is made in another report, available here. Whereas that report provided a general introduction to quantitative geography, this report looks at some specific methods, taking as good practice the opportunity to teach them not in the abstract but embedded in a topic of substantive interest to geography within the GCSE and A Level specifications. In doing so, it will be possible to bring greater understanding to key areas of geographical enquiry, be it inequality in this case study or other areas of geographical study for which data provide knowledge and inform discussion.
Download the full report below
This project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation
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