For 200 years, Britain’s most powerful elites have been allowed to enrich themselves at the expense of surging inequality and mass poverty. This landmark book charts the roller coaster history of both rich and poor, and the mechanisms that link wealth and impoverishment.
Stewart Lansley traces the way financiers and executives have ruthlessly exploited their power to extract existing wealth at the cost of livelihoods and social resilience. He examines the bitter ideological rifts that have driven society back to the extreme divisions of the past. Why, he asks, are rich and poor citizens judged by very different standards, and why is the long ‘cycle of privilege’ as embedded today as a century earlier?
"Lansley is a master of the telling anecdote and has produced a wonderfully readable and insightful history of how the rich have impoverished the poor." Jonathan Bradshaw, University of York
“A readable and illuminating context to our present day extreme inequalities, exposing the narratives that justify these persistent conditions and the folly of ignoring them.” Chuck Collins, Institute for Policy Studies
“An important and illuminating book, an essential antidote to the outdated and iniquitous idea that some people are worth more than others.” Kate Pickett, University of York
“Scrupulous, impressive and irrefutable. No one can read this damning historical portrait without wondering why we allow such grotesque gaps – seldom related to merit or social worth – to continue. An utterly necessary book.” David Kynaston, author of Austerity Britain
"A remarkably informed and readable history with a powerful message: skyrocketing inequality is not just an economic drain; it is a moral stain.” Jacob S. Hacker, Yale University
Stewart Lansley is a visiting fellow in the School of Policy Studies, the University of Bristol. He has written widely on poverty, wealth and inequality, most recently A Basic Income For All with Howard Reed (Compass 2019), and A Sharing Economy: How Social Wealth Funds Can Reduce Inequality and Help Balance the Books, (Policy Press, 2016). He is a Council member of the Progressive Economy Forum and an Associate of the Compass think-tank.
Introduction: Knighthoods for the rich, penalties for the poor
Part 1: 1800-1939
1. Hierarchical discipline
2. Britain’s gilded age
3. Public penury and private ostentation
4. A roller-coaster ride
Part 2: 1940-59
5. The future belongs to us
6. Britain’s ‘New Deal'
7. Brave new world
8. A shallow consensus
Part 3: 1960-79
9. The rediscovery of poverty
10. Poorer under Labour
11. Consolidation or advance?
12. Peak equality
Part 4: 1980-96
13. Don’t mention the 'p' word
14. Zapping Labour
15. The dark shadow of the Poor Law
16. The great widening
17. Money worship
Part 5: 1997-2010
18. The elephant in the room
19. Still born to rule
20. "I'm not Mother Teresa"
21. The house of cards
22. The good, the bad and the ugly
Part 6: 2011-20
23. Divide and rule: playing politics with 'the poor'
24. A leaner state
25. Burning injustice
26. Growing rich in their sleep
27. The high-inequality, high-poverty cycle
Afterword: COVID-19 and the polo season