There are two classes in society, The Economist  wrote on September 15th 2018: “the doers and the done-to, the thinkers and the thought-for, the policymakers and the policytakers (…)The ruling class live in a bubble. They go to the same colleges, marry each other, live in the same streets and work in the same offices. Remote from power, most people are expected to be content with growing material prosperity instead. Yet, amid stagnating productivity and the fiscal austerity that followed the financial crisis of 2008, even this promise has been broken.”

Inequality in income and wealth is rising worldwide.  For example, 82 percent of the wealth created in 2017 went to the top 1 percent of the world population. Eight individuals own the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 bln people on our planet, according to Oxfam Novib.

Inequality is a problem that divides societies, write Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in their book The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Well-being. When the distribution of income spreads apart, a society begins to malfunction affecting the mental health of everyone living within it, they say. Self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse and problem gambling seem to get worse with income dispersion. Anxiety increases at all levels in more unequal countries, also for high incomes. A study of 30,000 Britons found that an individual’s place in the income hierarchy predicted the incidence of mental stress more accurately than absolute income did. In America, relative income is more closely linked to depression than absolute income.

Jobs at the bottom of the labor market offer wages at or below subsistence level  that don’t offer any perspective. Even doing your best gets you nowhere anymore; who is at that place gets stuck. Research journalist James Bloodworth went undercover for his book Hired. Six months undercover in low-wage Britain. He worked in home care, at a call center, as an Uber driver and in an Amazon warehouse and sketches a gloomy picture. For seven pounds an hour he worked hard and got no respect. At Amazon he got no wage when he was sick; he had to go through a scan before he had lunch to see if he hadn’t stolen anything; sun glasses were forbidden because managers want to see if workers have red eyes as a result of a hangover.

The ELP Annual Leadership Conference is about ‘Reuniting a Divided World’. Executives from a wide variety of organizations will share their thoughts on the social divide and its implications. How can and should they contribute to close the gap? Or is that not their responsibility and should they leave it to politicians with a mandate?

Register here for the ELP Annual Conference 2018.

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