HE predicts a riot. Britain’s foremost money-saving expert Martin Lewis has been sending politicians increasingly desperate missives from the front line for months and now warns that energy bill rises in October could lead to “civil unrest”.

The chief inspector of constabulary for England and Wales, perhaps thinking along similar lines, has urged police to use their discretion when dealing with people stealing food to eat.

If only this were hyperbole. Desperate, angry people clashing with police, and increased shoplifting, could be the next staging post in this relentless crisis, unless there is an extraordinary effort of support for them from government.

Recent prices rises have resulted in harrowing stories of self-deprivation as people go without food or ride buses to stay warm, and understandably, much of the focus has been on immediate and short-term fixes.

But this inflationary explosion would not be causing such a crisis were it not for the underlying cause: the yawning structural inequality that has blighted British society for decades. That needs equally urgent attention.

Historically, the equation has been simple: inequality plus crisis equals unrest. The best example is in 18th century France, where widespread poverty existed alongside opulent, jealously guarded wealth. In the last decades of the century, food shortages and skyrocketing bread prices caused simmering anger to spill over into frequent rioting and eventually outright revolution.

There’s no sign Britain is about to have a revolution. It’s sometimes said that not having revolutions while others do has served Britain well, with good reason.

But unrest, as Lewis warns, is a real possibility, and if people feel alienated from mainstream politics, we know from recent experience from the UK and overseas that there could be other political consequences.

Research for French research firm L’Atelier, owned by bank BNP Paribas, comparing 36 countries on social mobility, found in March that Britain’s economy was the second most unsustainable, due in large part to the cost of housing. The UK, it warned, was “failing to provide an economy able to support the core promise of equitably distributed, merit-based social mobility that is integral to a healthy capitalist democracy in the medium to long term”, adding that Britain was at risk of “social unrest, protest and extremism”.

Would now be a good moment to mention “levelling up”? Deliberately vague but resonating with communities who felt left behind, it was the slogan that won populist Boris Johnson an 80-seat majority in 2019.

Since then, what has “levelling up” achieved? Next to nothing. A bill belatedly published in January was high on ambition, but low on resource and realism. After the last highly eventful two years, “levelling up” feels like an echo from a bygone era.

So, for that matter, does the SNP’s much-publicised 2016 pledge to “substantially eliminate” the attainment gap by 2026. This week the party pre-empted a damning verdict by giving formal notice they were abandoning the pledge. They had little choice: the latest figures show the attainment gap is wider than ever on literacy and numeracy among primary pupils.

Like the UK government, Nicola Sturgeon was hijacked, first by the pandemic and now by its after global effects and the Ukraine war. It’s not surprising that it knocked her government’s efforts on attainment off track.

But there had been limited progress on tackling the issue even before the pandemic. It shows how difficult it is to tackle the consequences of inequality without tackling the inequality itself.

And it really is a global problem. The World Inequality Report, compiled by the independent World Inequality Lab (WIL) group of social researchers, has found that the richest 10 per cent of the global population take home more than half of income, while the poorest 50 per cent take home just eight per cent.

The UK, wildly unequal in the heady days of empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, became much more equal in the 1950s-70s, following the end of empire and the expansion of the postwar welfare state, before inequality started to rise again from the 1980s.

Today here in Britain, the top 10 per cent earn on average nine times more than the bottom 50 per cent.

It’s because of that inequality that the pain of the cost-of-living crisis is being felt so unfairly. It is threatening the bare essentials of life for untold thousands, while at the other end of the income scale, people are ending their standing orders for cut flowers and thinking twice about spa weekends.

Governments do not often survive their association with a crisis like this. That means Labour, traditionally the party of equality, is more likely than not to win the next election, especially in view of the Conservatives’ inadequate crisis response. In Scotland, the ageing SNP government also faces a resurgent Labour and growing social discontent caused by high bills. Will its catch-all tactic of blaming Westminster continue to work, or will people tire of the buck-passing? What will it mean for the independence debate?

We’ll see, but what is becoming ever clearer is that both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and indeed globally, pressure is building to reform our societies to make them better at distributing income and wealth fairly. As the World Inequality Lab puts it, “inequality is not inevitable, it is a political choice”. It also notes that over the last 40 years, nations have become significantly richer, but governments significantly poorer, meaning wealth is in private hands. This means governments are less able to tackle crises.

What is required is meaningful redistribution. Yes, in the short term, it means uplifting Universal Credit and imposing a Windfall Tax on energy companies, who are growing so bloated on the back of others’ penury.

But it also means tackling tax dodges, and perhaps above all, clawing back some of the wealth of the multimillionaires and billionaires who have amassed so much. The WIL proposes a modest progressive wealth tax on those individuals, globally, the proceeds of which could be reinvested in health, education and the environment.

Such a tax may once have seemed unthinkable except among confirmed lefties; not any more. The political maelstrom in which we have all been living will only end when the political class show willingness to tackle the inequality that’s causing it.

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