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UK workers would back pay transparency to fight inequality – poll

The Guardian logo The Guardian 03/06/2019 Richard Partington Economics correspondent
© Getty

A majority of British workers would back pay transparency measures to tackle income inequality, as calls mount for Scandinavian-style income disclosures in Britain.

A survey undertaken by YouGov on behalf of the jobs website Indeed showed 56% of workers support making personal information such as monthly income and tax returns publicly available.

The poll joins growing calls from Labour, trade unions, thinktanks and campaign groups to introduce pay disclosures to tackle heightened levels of inequality in Britain. Countries including Finland, Sweden and Norway already force the publication of pay and tax details for every worker in some form.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell © Getty Shadow chancellor John McDonnell

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, who has previously called for legislation to enforce public disclosures of incomes above £1m, said Labour would take such steps if elected.

“It’s clear that excessive pay inequality is one of the drivers of the anger and resentment which many people feel towards the establishment,” he said in a comment on the survey’s findings.

“Labour will tackle the scourge of those earning enormous sums and using schemes of dubious morality to hide them offshore in tax havens.”

The findings from the survey of more than 2,000 full-time employees indicate British workers want to know how much their colleagues are paid and would be ready to give up their own privacy in exchange.

Pawel Adrjan, the UK economist at Indeed, said a traditional reticence to discuss financial matters among friends and family was being challenged as awareness of inequality grows.

“Perhaps that is in part due to the huge interest that gender pay gap reporting has gathered, but perhaps more so thanks to the new generation of younger workers with different views on money and the workplace,” he said.

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According to official figures, one-quarter of companies and public sector bodies in the UK have a pay gap of more than 20% in favour of men.

The survey asked whether workers would support a system of publicly available pay information online that anyone could see to ensure transparency and fairness. Most approved of the idea, 33% opposed it and 11% were undecided.

Indeed believes its research is the first time such a study has found support for pay transparency measures in Britain, which alongside the US has typically been less supportive of the idea.

McDonnell, who together with the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has published his tax returns, first floated the idea in 2017.

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He told the Guardian at the time that he hoped more transparency of individuals’ tax affairs would cut down on tax avoidance and encourage a more open civic culture.

In Norway, every citizen’s earnings are made available for the public to inspect in a system that has been in place since the early 1800s. In Sweden, companies with 25 or more employees must have an equality action plan, and every worker’s pay details can be accessed from tax authorities.

The Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank has previously called for transparency measures to form part of public life in Britain, as a way of tackling the gender , ethnicity and disability pay gaps.

The growing calls for greater pay disclosure add to rising concerns about inequality in Britain, with the launch of a five-year review by the Nobel prize-winning economist Sir Angus Deaton and the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

According to the IFS, the share of household income for the richest 1% has almost tripled in the past four decades, rising from 3% in the 1970s to about 8%. Average chief executive pay at FTSE 100 companies has risen to 145 times that of the average worker, from 47 times as recently as 1998.

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