Inequalities of all kinds are fundamentally political, and politics itself is unequal. Those better off in terms of economic resources and social ties, and those from historically powerful groups, still tend to participate more in politics and see themselves reflected in the makeup of those in power. In turn, inequalities in other areas of life depend on policies and institutions that are the result of political choice and require political support to persist or be changed. Understanding the inequalities that exist in political action and access, and how other forms of inequality shape them, and are reproduced through policy, is therefore essential to understanding contemporary inequalities.
How to understand and measure political inequalities?
This revolves around four main questions: (i) what is political inequality? ; (ii) why is this important? ; (iii) how is it related to economic inequality? ; and (iv) how can it be measured?
To answer it requires both conceptual thinking and empirical analysis. The idea of political equality is rooted in the idea that the opinions of all citizens deserve equal consideration in the political process. Viewing this in practical terms means exploring how citizens engage in politics, including participating in political activities such as protesting and voting, as well as deciding whether or not to run for elected office. Political participation is generally viewed as an elite activity with more intensive participation from wealthier and more educated groups than the average citizen. How this skews the political process in favor of the interests of these groups has been the subject of much debate. A series of institutional and political reforms have been experimented with to achieve greater political equality, such as quotas and reserves, information campaigns and regulations on fundraising and political activities.
How important is politics to economic inequalities?
Politics is important for economic inequality because government policies both shape the playing field on which people live their lives and provide direct leverage to channel resources to particular people, groups or places. The taxation system and public spending, for example, mean that the disposable income inequality of UK households is only three-fifths of the original income inequality. But this type of policy requires political support, from the general public, through political parties, and in political choices. One of the reasons why inequalities can persist is the lack of political will to tackle them. We study the political attention given to inequality in the UK over the past three decades, highlighting how political inequalities reinforce economic inequalities through the unequal influence of votes and the unequal representation of people from different groups (in particular class) in politics.
To answer these questions, we will draw on cutting-edge research data from political economy, political science and sociology, as well as economics; as well as data analysis at the individual, national and international level.