Inequality appears to be back on the intellectual and political agenda. This paper provides a commentary on this renewed interest, drawing on an empirical discussion of inequality in the UK. The paper argues that inequality should be seen as produced in the inherently unequal social relations of production, drawing attention to the role of social struggle in shaping dynamics of inequality. However, inequality is not just produced in dynamic class struggle in the formal economy, but also through the social reproduction of labour power on a day-to-day and inter-generational basis. As such, inequalities of household resources at any point in time may be reproductive of greater future inequality. It is argued that inequality has risen in the UK over recent decades because of changes in the social relations of production in the formal economy and social reproduction in the domestic sector, both of which have witnessed significant state interventions that have increased structural inequalities. It is argued that, absent of significant change, the underpinning structural dynamics in the UK will lead to further increases in inequality over the short and longer-term. Given this, we might expect to see an already emergent ‘New Politics of Inequality’ intensifying in the coming decades.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Bakker, I. (2007) Social reproduction and the constitution of a gendered political economy. New Political Economy 12(4): 541–556.
Bakker, I. and Gill, S. (2008) New constitutionalism and social reproduction. In: Beyond States and Markets: The Challenges of Social Reproduction. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 19–33.
Bassanini, A. and Manfredi, T. (2012) Capital’s Grabbing Hand? A Cross-Country/Cross-Industry Analysis of the Decline of the Labour Share. OECD Publishing.
Belfield, C., Cribb, J., Hood, A. and Joyce, R. (2015) Living Standards, Poverty and Inequality in the UK: 2015. London: IFS.
Belfield, C., Cribb, J., Hood, A. and Joyce, R. (2014) Living standards, poverty and inequality in the UK: 2014, IFS Reports (R96) London: IFS.
Blanden, J. (2015) Intergenerational income persistence. In: IZA World of Labor.
Blanden, J., Haveman, R., Smeeding, T. and Wilson, K. (2014) Intergenerational mobility in the United States and Great Britain: A comparative study of parent–child pathways. Review of Income and Wealth, 60(3): 425–449.
Blanden, J. and Gregg, P. (2007) Explaining Inter-generational Income Persistence: Non-cognitive Skills, Ability and Education. Centre for Market and Public Organisation Working Paper 06(146).
Blow, L., Ian W. and Yu Z. (2012) Who benefits from child benefit? Economic Inquiry (1):153.
Bonefeld, W. (2001) The permanence of primitive accumulation: commodity fetishism and social constitution. The Commoner 2 (September).
Bonefeld, W. (2011) Primitive accumulation and capitalist accumulation: notes on social constitution and expropriation. Science & Society 75(3): 379–399.
Boyer, R. (2015) A World of Contrasted but Interdependent Inequality Regimes: China, United States and the European Union. Review of Political Economy 1–37.
Bovill, D. (2014) Patterns of Pay: Estimates from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, UK, 1997 to 2013. Swansea: ONS.
Brenner, N., Peck, J. and Theodore, N. (2010) Variegated neoliberalization: Geographies, modalities, pathways. Global Networks 10(2): 182–222.
Burawoy, M. (2015) Facing an unequal world. Current Sociology 63(1): 5–34.
Burnham, P. (2001) Marx, international political economy and globalisation. Capital & Class 25(75): 103–112.
Cain, R. (2016) Responsibilising recovery: Lone and low-paid parents, Universal Credit and the gendered contradictions of UK welfare reform. British Politics. doi:10.1057/s41293-016-0034-4.
Cammack, P. (2006) The Politics of Global Competitiveness. Papers in the Politics of Global Competitiveness (Vol. 1). Retrieved from http://www.politicsofglobalcompetitiveness.net/.
Cammack, P. (2009) Poverty reduction and universal competitiveness. Labour, Capital and Society 42: 1–2.
Chan, T.W. and Boliver, V. (2013a) Social mobility over three generations in Britain. American Sociological Review 78(4): 662–678.
Chan, T.W. and Boliver, V. (2013b) The grandparents effect in social mobility: Evidence from British birth cohort studies. American Sociological Review.
Clarke, S. (1983) State, class struggle, and the reproduction of capital. Kapitalistate 10-11: 113–134.
Corak, M. (2006) Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults? Lessons from a Cross Country Comparison of Generational Earnings Mobility. IZA Discussion Paper, 1993.
Corak, M., Lindquist, M.J. and Mazumder, B. (2014) A comparison of upward and downward intergenerational mobility in Canada, Sweden and the United States. Labour Economics 30: 185–200.
Crawford, R., Innes, D., & O’Dea, C. (2015) The Evolution of Wealth in Great Britain: 2006-08 to 2010-12. London: IFS. Retrieved from http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8050.
Daly, M. (2013) Parenting support policies in Europe. Families, Relationships and Societies 2:2: 159–174.
Daly, M. and Bray, R. (2015) Parenting support in England: The bedding down of a new policy. Social Policy and Society 14(04): 633–644.
Department for Communities and Local Government (2015) English Housing Survey 2013 to 2014: Headline report. London: DCLG.
Duncan-Smith, I (2006) Breakdown Britain. Social Justice Policy Group, London: The Centre for Social Justice.
Elming, W., Emmerson, C., Johnson, P. and Phillips, D. (2015) An assessment of the potential compensation provided by the new “National Living Wage” for the personal tax and benefit measures announced for implementation in the current parliament. London: IFS.
Elson, D. (1998) The economic, the political and the domestic: Businesses, states and households in the organisation of production. New Political Economy 3(2): 189–208.
Ermisch, J., Francesconi, M. and Siedler, T. (2006) Intergenerational Mobility and Marital Sorting*. The Economic Journal 116(513): 659–679.
Fraser, N. (2014) Behind Marx’s Hidden Abode. New Left Review (86): 55–72.
Gardiner, J. (1998) Beyond human capital: Households in the macroeconomy. New Political Economy 3(2): 209–221.
Greenstein, A., Burman, E., Kalambouka, A. and Sapin, K. (2016) Construction and deconstruction of ‘family’ by the ‘bedroom tax’. British Politics. doi:10.1057/s41293-016-0033-5.
Grover, C. (2012) “Personalised conditionality”: Observations on active proletarianisation in late modern Britain. Capital & Class 36(2): 283–301.
Hartmann, H.I. (1979) The unhappy marriage of Marxism and feminism: towards a more progressive union. Capital & Class 3(2): 1–33.
Harvey, D. (2010) The Enigma of Capital: and the Crises of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford Univ Press.
Harvey, D. (2014) Afterthoughts on Piketty’s Capital. http://davidharvey.org/2014/05/.
Hills, J. (2007) Ends and Means: The Future Roles of Social Housing in England: Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion Report 34.
Hills, J., Cunliffe, J., Obolenskaya, P. and Karagiannaki, E. (2015) Falling behind, getting ahead: The changing structure of inequality in the UK, 2007-2013. Social Policy in a Cold Climate, Research Report, 5.
Holm, A. and Jæger, M.M. (2008) Does Relative Risk Aversion explain educational inequality? A dynamic choice approach. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 26(3): 199–219.
Holmlund, H. (2007) Intergenerational Mobility and Assortative Mating: Effects of an Educational Reform. London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance Working Paper.
Hood, A. and Joyce, R. (2013) The economic circumstances of cohorts born between the 1940s and the 1970s, R89.
Jaeger, M. (2007) Educational Mobility Across Three Generations: The Changing Impact of Parental Social Class, Economic, Cultural and Social Capital. Routledge.
Jæger, M. (2012) The extended family and children’s educational success. American Sociological Review, 77(6), 903–922. doi:10.1177/0003122412464040.
Jæger, M.M. and Holm, A. (2007) Does parents’ economic, cultural, and social capital explain the social class effect on educational attainment in the Scandinavian mobility regime? Social Science Research 36(2): 719–744.
Jessop, B. (2012) Obstacles to a world state in the shadow of the world market. Cooperation and Conflict 47(2): 200–219.
Jonsson, J., Grusky, D., Di Carlo, M., Pollak, R. and Brinton, M. (2009) Microclass mobility: Social reproduction in four countries. American Journal of Sociology 114(4): 977–1036.
LeBaron, G. and Roberts, A. (2014) Toward a feminist political economy of capitalism and carcerality. Signs 40(1): 19–44.
Lucas, S.R. (2001) Effectively maintained inequality: education transitions, track mobility, and social background effects. American Journal of Sociology 106(6), 1642–1690.
McKnight, A. et al. (2015) The Coalition’s Record on Employment: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 2010-2015. Social Policy in a Cold Climate Working Paper, 15.
Mongiovi, G. (2015) Piketty on capitalism and inequality: A radical economics perspective. Review of Radical Political Economics 47: 558–565.
Montgomerie, J. (2006) The financialization of the American credit card industry. Competition & Change 10(3): 301–319.
Montgomerie, J. (2009) The pursuit of (past) happiness? Middle-class indebtedness and American financialisation. New Political Economy 14(1), 1–24.
Montgomerie, J. and Tepe-Belfrage, D. (2016) A feminist moral-political economy of uneven reform in austerity Britain: Fostering financial and parental literacy. Globalizations 1–16.
Montgomerie, J. and Young, B. (2010) Home is Where The Hardship is. Gender and Wealth (Dis) Accumulation in the Subprime Boom. CRESC Working Paper.
Morgan, J. (2015) Piketty’s calibration economics: Inequality and the dissolution of solutions? Globalizations 12(5): 803–823.
Muller, W. and Pollak, R. (2004) Social mobility in Europe. In: R. Breen (ed.) Social Mobility in West Germany: The Long Arms of History Discovered? Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nunn, A. (2012) The political economy of competitiveness and social mobility. British Politics.
Nunn, A. (2013) Social Mobility and Social Cohesion in European Countries. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
Nunn, A. (2014) The contested and contingent outcomes of Thatcherism in the UK. Capital & Class 38(2): 303–321.
Nunn, A. (2015) Saving World Market Society from itself? The New Global Politics of Inequality and the agents of global capitalism. Spectrum: Journal of Global Studies 7(2).
Nunn, A. and Beekmans, P. (2015) The Political Economy of Competitiveness and Continuous Adjustment in EU Meta-Governance. International Journal of Public Administration.
Nunn, A., Bickerstaffe, T., Hogarth, T. and Green, A.E. (2010) Post-Code Selection? Employers’ Use of Address-Based Information Shortcuts in Recruitment Decisions. DWP Research Report.
Nunn, A., Monro, S., Kelsey, S., Bickerstaffe, T., Jassi, S., Hawtin, M. and Halliday, S. (2008) Factors influencing the inter- and intra-class mobility of Jobcentre Plus customers: A case study approach. DWP Research Report 472.
OECD (2011) Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising. OECD.
OECD (2012) Labour Losing to Capital: What Explains the Declining Labour Share? Paris: OECD Publishing.
OECD (2013) Crisis squeezes income and puts pressure on inequality and poverty: New Results from the OECD Income Distribution Database.
OECD (2014a) INCOME INEQUALITY UPDATE Rising Inequality: Youth and Poor Fall Further Behind. OECD.
OECD (2014b) OECD Gender Data Portal: Time Use Accross the World. Paris: OECD.
Pearson, R., & Elson, D. (2015) Transcending the impact of the financial crisis in the United Kingdom: towards plan F—a feminist economic strategy. Feminist Review, 109(1), 8–30. doi:10.1057/fr.2014.42.
Pessoa, J.P. (2013) Decoupling of Wage Growth and Productivity Growth? Myth and Reality. CEP Discussion Paper No 1246.
Piketty, T. (2014) Capital in the Twenty-First Century. London and Cambridge MA: Belknap Press.
Radice, H. (2011) Cutting government deficits: Economic science or class war? Capital & Class, 35(1): 125–137.
Rai, S.M., Hoskyns, C. and Thomas, D. (2014) Depletion: The cost of social reproduction. International Feminist Journal of Politics 16(1), 86–105.
Reay, D. (2001). Finding or losing yourself?: Working-class relationships to education. Journal of Education Policy 16: 333–346.
Reay, D., Crozier, G. and Clayton, J. (2010) “Fitting in” or “standing out’: Working-class students in UK higher education. British Educational Research Journal 32(1): 1–19.
Roberts, A. (2015) Gender, financial deepening and the production of embodied finance: Towards a critical feminist analysis. Global Society, 29(1): 107–127.
Soederberg, S. (2014) Debtfare States and the Poverty Industry: Money, Discipline and the Surplus Population. London: Routledge.
Steans, J. and Tepe, D. (2010) Introduction – Social reproduction in international political economy: Theoretical insights and international, transnational and local sitings. Review of International Political Economy 17(5): 807–815.
Stiglitz, J. (2014) New theoretical perspectives on the distribution of income and wealth among individuals. Presentation given at Colombia University on, 8.
Tepe-Belfrage, D. and Nunn A. (Forthcoming). Disciplinary Social Policy and the failing promise of the New Middle Classes: The Troubled Families Programme. Social Policy and Society.
Varoufakis, Y. (2014) Egalitarianism’s latest foe: a critical review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-Frist Century. Real-World Economics Review 18.
Wade, R.H. (2014) The Piketty phenomenon and the future of inequality. Real World Economics Review 2.
Women’s Budget Group (2015) The Impact on Women of July Budget 2015: A Budget that Undermines Women’s Security. London: Women’s Budget Group.
The paper benefitted enormously from discussion at two workshop discussions in the ESRC Seminar series: ‘From Recovery to Discovery: Opening the Debate on Alternatives to Financialisation’ and in particular discussion and comments with/from Daniela Tepe-Belfrage; Emma Dowling; Sara Wallin; Ruth Cain; Johnna Montgomerie; Angus Cameron; Ruth Pearson and Shirin Rai. The paper also benefited from the very helpful comments and input of three anonymous reviewers. Thanks and gratitude to all, but errors and omissions are the author’s alone.
About this article
Cite this article
Nunn, A. The production and reproduction of inequality in the UK in times of austerity. Br Polit 11, 469–487 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41293-016-0040-6
- inter-generational mobility