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Attitudes to inequality divide the workforce

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New research shows that while the majority of people (80%) say they are concerned about inequality, few agree on what, if anything, should be done about it.

The IFS Deaton Review of Inequalities, backed by the Nuffield Foundation and presented by a team from Kings College London, has found attitudes were almost evenly split over the causes of inequality.

Those termed ‘individualists’ cited people’s own efforts and abilities as the main cause of inequality, whereas ‘structuralists’ blamed societal factors outside of people’s control and a middle group said they felt there are elements of both.

The mix in attitudes therefore led to disagreement about how to tackle the issue.


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Redistributive policy, in which taxation and income transfers would be used to help people on lower incomes, was an unpopular solution.

More specific and less direct means of redistribution, such as funding for the NHS or for children from poorer families to go to university, were more popular.

Mark Franks, director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation told HR Magazine: “Whilst there is widespread concern about inequality in Britain, many people also believe that large differences in incomes are acceptable to properly reward talent and hard work.

“On the other hand, people believe economic inequalities are unjust when they lead to a loss of equality of status and respect.”

Because of the widespread belief in meritocracy, Franks advised employers to listen carefully to their workforces’ views on equality and fairness to ensure organisational values and decisions affecting employees consider a variety of different perspectives.

Differences in generation and education were also linked to variations in attitude in the research.

Younger people and university graduates were more concerned about inequalities while older generations viewing them as a fact of life. 

Sabby Gill, CEO at HR consultant Thomas International, said the research shows employers must recognise individuality when considering how to improve inclusion in the workforce.

“To gain a deeper understanding of their staff, they need to listen to their concerns, ideas and opinions with open ears. And combine this with a deep understanding of what makes their employees tick,” he told HR magazine.

Psychometric testing Gill suggested can be a good way to gain insight into employees’ personality and emotional intelligence.

“Armed with this knowledge, companies, led by HR, can train teams to improve diversity and inclusion,” he said.

“By understanding differences and creating a space that is designed to be more inclusive of these differences, employers build the foundations of a more inclusive working environment.”