On Wednesday, 16 April, the Dutch Minister of Social Affairs and Employment Lodewijk Asscher was presented with the results of an extensive international study titled ‘Growing INequalities' Impacts’, or GINI, at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Published by Oxford University Press, the study reveals a growing income gap in the Netherlands and other countries and shows the negative impact this is having on social cohesion. The greater the degree of inequality between citizens, the less their engagement in society.
After being presented with these results, Minister Asscher spoke about their significance. 'I am happy that such extensive research and follow-up research is being conducted into this fundamental topic, with in-depth fact-checking and a thorough analysis of the causal links about something that we all find important. And, indeed, something we all sense in our hearts to at least some extent. [...] Disproportionate income gaps are pushing us apart and eroding social cohesion. […] Can that gap be justified? Does the one work so much harder than the other? And how can we try to change this in a way that everyone benefits and feels is fair? These are the questions that society and policymakers will have to tackle.'
According to Asscher, the real crux is a good life. 'For that, we need three things', he said. 'A huge quality leap in education, a rigorous approach to "parasites" on the job market – by which I mean the dishonest employers and employment agencies who shirk statutory requirements and contributions and blithely ignore collective labour agreements – and a reduction in labour costs for work at the lower end of the job market.
The period from 1977 to 2011 has seen a structural increase in income inequalities. According to the researchers, the growing inequality is partly attributable to policy decisions. Policy changes made during recessions in order to rebalance the state budget (in respect of the minimum wage and benefits) have had a detrimental effect on low incomes and have only cemented income inequalities. Moreover, the researchers conclude that policymakers have made less of an effort in redressing those inequalities.
Study coordinator Professor Wiemer Salverda: 'An important general conclusion to come out of the Growing INequalities' Impacts study is that the countries putting in the best performance on the economic and social fronts have a far-reaching welfare system that invests, stimulates and offers a safety net. In this country, income redistribution has taken a dive from clearly above to a considerable degree below the average of the countries studied.'
Professor Herman van de Werfhorst, who is one of the research leaders, added: 'Growing inequality is a particular cause for concern because it has an adverse effect on political participation, social mobility and well-being.'
The interdisciplinary Growing INequalities' Impacts (GINI) study focuses on growing gaps in income and education and their social, political and cultural impacts in the EU, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Canada and Australia. In total, two hundred researchers – including many leading names in inequality studies – contributed to the GINI project. A Dutch summary of the report on the Netherlands is available on gini-research.org/Dutch.