73% of Lib Dem members say gap between poorest and richest now unacceptably large

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Over 660 party members have responded, and we’re currently publishing the full results.

LDV asked: Some people believe that the gap between the earnings of the richest and the poorest in Britain is now unacceptably large and unfair. Other people think this the natural and acceptable result of a free economy, and that very successful people should be allowed to get rich. Which of the following best reflects your view?

Here’s what our sample of party members said:

  • 73% – The gap between the poorest and the richest is unacceptably large and unfair
  • 16% – The gap between the poorest and the richest is an acceptable part of a successful economy
  • 8% – Other
  • 3% – Don’t know / No opinion

This question was asked by YouGov a couple of months ago, and the result was similiar but not identical for Lib Dem voters — here’s what they said:

  • 59% – The gap between the poorest and the richest is unacceptably large and unfair
  • 25% – The gap between the poorest and the richest is an acceptable part of a successful economy
  • 8% – Other
  • 3% – Don’t know / No opinion

In fact, it was Labour voters — 77% to 13% agreeing the gap is too large — whose answers were most similar to those of our sample of Lib Dem party members. In stark contrast, Conservative voters felt, by a margin of 49% to 34%, that the current gap between rich and poor “is an acceptable part of a successful economy”. Clear evidence, if it were needed, that a marriage between the Lib Dems and Tories is not likely to be a meeting of minds.

Here’s a sample of your comments:

I don’t have a problem with a few rich outliers, but the general distribution should be narrower, and we should do everything possible to keep people out of absolute poverty.

There’s nothing wrong with people getting rich but the gap between those who have little and those who have a lot has grown far too big!

More important that the gap in earnings is the gulf in inherited wealth concentrated over decades and generations; we cannot live in a meritocracy where people get what they deserve until the undeserving do not have such privilege and insurmountable advantages offered to them through the circumstances of their birth.

As long as the standard of living of the poorest is good (which it isn’t), the size of the gap doesn’t really matter so much.

The gap itself is not the issue, but it is the role of government to ensure that the rich do not earn their wealth by exploiting those less well off.

Anyone who does not choose Option number 1 needs to read the party preamble “create a more equal society”. It is what we stand for. Anyone else can fuck off and join the Tories!

Gaps are acceptable, even necessary, it’s mobility that is important.

Would you rather you and your neighbour both had £50, or you had £100 and he £200?

Too much money equals too much power in few hands; too much money in few hands means that the few can exert undue influence on government at all levels.

Very successful and able people should be allowed to get rich but there should be a limit to what they pass on to the next generation.

It’s the natural conclusion of a free market economy. The unfairness comes from the perception, and often the reality, that the super rich play by a different set of rules and are able to avoid contributing their fair share in tax revenue.

This is a key test of liberalism. You need an acceptably small gap between rich and poor in order for equality of opportunity to mean anything, especially as so many of life’s outcomes are the product of one’s environment and not simply one’s will. ‘Liberty without equality is of noble sound, but squalid meaning’- Hobhouse.

Too simplistic a question to give a straight yes/no answer – there should be a balance between elitism and equality of outcome, the question is how to balance it and currently I agree with the coalition’s emphasis on social mobility rather than more redistribution.

There will always be rich and poor. We should be asking if the means to becoming the richest or the poorest are fair.

  • Over 1,300 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with LibDemVoice.org. 662 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 3rd and 9th January.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However, LibDemVoice.org’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past accurately predicted the winners of the contest for Party President, and the result of the conference decision to approve the Coalition agreement.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at www.libdemvoice.org/category/ldv-members-poll
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    This entry was posted in LDV Members poll.
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    12 Comments

    • A wealth gap is inevitable.

      The issue is what is an acceptable gap?

      Over recent years the gap has increased
      and more people live in poverty.

      This will only changed if governments take
      action to encourage job creation so everyone
      has employment opportunities.

      Just pouring money into benefits like the last
      lot did is not the answer.

      Decent jobs, schools and a properly resourced
      health service are the keys to narrowing the gap.

    • I’ve always been in two minds about the gap between poorest and richest, but the consequences of any attempt to close the gap has always pushed me to the conclusion that a gap is inevitable in a liberal economy and society.

      Frankly I’m a little surprised that as many as 34% of conservatives feel that the current gap isn’t “an acceptable part of a successful economy”, but I suspect that’s because they feel that the past decade has been particularly bad for the poorest due to house price rises, and failure to reduce taxation and welfare dependency.

    • Simon McGrath 16th Jan '11 - 11:23am

      Wealth gaps are why we have progressive taxation

    • In time I think this will be seen as Labours biggest failure. Whilst there will always be exceptions at the top end, a more even distribution is, I believe a sign of a fair society.

      This is where the tax system should help. The recent increase in VAT and Osbournes planned reduction in top rate income tax are therefore the wrong measures. Increasing the level at which NI tapers off and a penny on all but the lowest tax rate would be preferable. In conjunction with the 10K rate these could make a difference.

      It’s not just tax but it would be start.

    • Simon, that progressive taxation helps avoid a wealth gap is a fallacy, simply taking a larger percentage of a larger wage packet doesn’t stop a “rich” person taking home more, a wealth gap will still exist and in fact still widen.

      There is nothing that can be done about a wealth gap in a liberal economy and liberal society, you can make life better for the poor through progressive taxation and targeted public services and benefits which might have a knock on effect on the wealth gap but it will never stop the trend of the wealthiest getting wealthier at a rate faster than the poor.

    • I don’t care one bit about the gap between the rich and the poor, I care about the living standards of the very poorest in society. The gap between the richest and the poorest is an entirely arbitrary concept. As long as 100% of your society has enough money to survive moderately comfortably and has access to the opportunities to become wealthy, let the gap be as narrow or wide as it likes.

    • Patrick Smith 16th Jan '11 - 3:12pm

      Defending the poorest and the vulnerable, including our students, is as important as reducing the gap between the rich and poor.

      Remember that when the Liberal Party was founded in Wills Rooms, Carlton House in 1859 the call went up for `Free Trade,Retrenchment and Reform’ led by Gladstone.

      Today the `Coalition Agreement’ is predicated on `Retrenchment’ and bailing the Economy out of the mess of a national debt of £170B that Labour created over 13 years, when the gap between rich and poor greatly increased simply because they allowed the Market and big authoritarian Government to run havoc.

      I know that Student Tuition Fees remain outstanding for further amendment and further work but I take pride that Liberals in Government for the first time in 65 years, have already defended the poor and vulnerable and taken a good step on the poverty gap.

      I want to see more L/D Wins to take to the Electorate.Already there have been several:

      1.Restoring pensions and inflation.
      2.Free TV licences for over 75`s and retaining `Cold Weather Payments’,Free Bus Passes and Eye Tests.
      3.Pupil Premium with extra £2.2B targeted to those pupils in most need.
      4.High Speed Rail-North/South.
      5.New Green Investment Bank.
      6.Low carbon buses.
      7.New Constitutional Reforms i.e. AV Ref. and H of L`s. (80% Elected/STV)
      8.Tax Allowances to free 90K taxpayers out of tax altogether and a progressive tax policy to help ( 9 million taxpayers with further allowances) i.e..£700 benefit for each taxpayer.
      9.Abolition of ID Cards and end of Contactpoint and Child Detention Centres and new Freedom Bill on parliamentary agenda.

      I am surprized that the satisfaction rate is not higher even at this early stage of a 5 year Parliament.

    • Income inequality matters very much. I recommend the book ‘The Spirit Level’ which employs worldwide academic reserch to demonstrate the point.
      Can I also complain at the over use of the term Liberal i.e. all liberal =good and that is what Lib Dems are about. No we aren’t. As a founder member of the Party from SDP I retain a social democrat identity. I can happily endorese social liberalism but not the economic,Orang Book, Cleggite version illustrated by some of the uncaring responses above.

    • dave thawley 18th Jan '11 - 12:03am

      so what does clegg do – widen it further – he needs to go now

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