Inequality, Redistribution and Living Standards in Britain since 1945

  • Paul Johnson
Part of the Contemporary History in Context book series (CHIC)


In the fifty years since the end of the Second World War, the British people have enjoyed the fruits of an unprecedented period of sustained economic growth. Real personal disposable income per capita (i.e. income after direct tax) has grown at an average annual rate of 2.4 per cent over the period 1949–95.1 This means that people today are about three times as well-off as in the late 1940s, and now, in real terms, earn and spend £2.95 for every £1 they earned and spent in 1949. Yet despite the palpable economic achievements of the postwar period, there has been intermittent, and over the last decade rather more continuous, concern about the failure to distribute the benefits of economic growth to all sections of the population. There has, moreover, been a growing belief in the 1980s that measured economic growth has been achieved at the expense of unmeasured costs — the costs of occupational stress, congestion and pollution, environmental degradation and familial and societal disintegration. If the idea of the ‘standard of living’ is to involve more than simply the summation of market activity, then it should, in some way, take into account those qualitative changes in British society over the last five decades that do not figure in estimates of real income per capita.


Income Distribution Disposable Income Real Income Household Type Female Labour Force Participation 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Paul Johnson

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