Chalk + Talk with Professor Karen Rowlingson

What should we do (if anything) about wealth inequality?

We are delighted to welcome to Chalk + Talk Professor Karen Rowlingson who will discuss the role of wealth in inequality.

Issues such as the growing income gap between the rich and poor, increased intergenerational inequality and declining levels of social mobility are often cited in the media and by political commentators as failings of governments of all political persuasions. These issues are almost always framed through the lens of poverty and low income, while very little discussion of wealth and the wealthy takes place. However, in recent years there has been increased academic, policy and public interest in understanding the role personal assets play in these issues. While conceptually distinct, there appears to be a strong correlation, with the richest having the most assets while the poorest have the least.

Wealth, in the form of personal assets, also plays a different role in people’s lives than income alone. For instance, there is growing evidence to suggest that wealth might have an independent effect on people’s health, life prospects and general wellbeing. This has particularly important connotations for our understanding of the current policy context, as a shift in emphasis towards personal assets and more individual responsibility for welfare under successive Conservative-led and Labour governments has so far failed to achieve its aim of greater individual financial security and wellbeing for the poorest in our society.

This raises a number of important questions for policy makers to consider when seeking to tackle inequality: What is wealth? Who has got it? How have they acquired it? Can the extent of the gap between rich and poor be justified even if those who accumulate large amounts of wealth did so through merit rather than birth? And, what can policy do about wealth and the wealthy?

Professor Karen Rowlingson

Karen is a Professor of Social Policy in the Institute of Applied Social Studies as well as being Director of the Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM). From 2010-2012 she was the Vice Chair of the ESRC’s Research Committee and Chair of its Grants Delivery Group.  Karen previously worked at the Universities of Bath and Derby as well as at the Policy Studies Institute and in market research.  She has degrees in history, sociology and social policy.


Chalk + Talk is the SMF’s popular lunchtime seminar series, run in partnership with the ESRC. Chalk + Talk brings the best policy output from the world of academia into the heart of Westminster.

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