The research into spending since 1979 finds that the value of the "social wage" - the income in kind received from welfare services - was only 20 per cent higher for the poorest fifth of the population than the richest fifth, when differences in age and sex are taken into account.
The limited degree of redistribution achieved by the welfare state is explained by the fact that although expenditure on housing and social services is heavily weighted towards the poor, spending on higher education benefits the most prosperous.
Even allowing for the social wage, the gap between the richest and poorest households grew markedly wider between 1979 and 1993. The income of the poorest fifth, in cash and kind, grew by up to 13 per cent, compared with a 60 per cent increase for the richest households.
The Changing Distribution of the Social Wage. Summary available from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 01904 629241 or www.jrf.org.uk. Consumers' top 10
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