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WES 2022: Richard Blundell on inequality in the time of Covid

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

As part of the 21st annual Warwick Economics Summit, Richard Blundell delivered a riveting keynote address to our virtual audience on 4th February, 2022.


Below, you will find our official Summit Press Release for the event, which summarises the speech's highlights, and is accompanied by a collection of the very best quotes from Richard Blundell at WES 2022.


 

PRESS RELEASE:


On February 4th, Prof. Richard Blundell delivered an insightful address to the student-run Warwick Economics Summit. Speaking to hundreds of virtual attendees, the Professor of Political Economy at UCL's Department of Economics addressed the ever-important subject of inequality, and in particular its current state in two disparate settings: the UK, and developing nations.


In his talk, Prof. Blundell emphasised that many economists' expectations - including his own, and those of his colleagues at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) - had been that the Covid-19 pandemic would side-line issues of inequality, "we actually thought inequality would be off the agenda, it'll be all about health". These expectations, however, had been wrong; Prof. Blundell argued that the pandemic has instead served to expose and exacerbate existing inequalities.


The statistics do not lie. Inequalities have been rising in most developed countries since the beginning of the 21st century, and this trend has persisted throughout the pandemic. Inequalities have also been meaningfully recognised for their multidimensionality, with economists moving beyond a simple wealth and income approach to inequality. During the pandemic, inequalities in health, education, and political voice have become increasingly salient. Wide chasms have appeared for instance in the global vaccination roll-out; in the provision of in-work training as industries went remote; and in the ethnically divergent death rates as a result of Covid-19.


On the one hand, Prof. Blundell praised governments for the economic policies they adopted during the pandemic - citing the UK furlough scheme as an example - for its success in temporarily ensuring inequality does not worsen in the short-term. However, Prof. Blundell warned of the problems posed by unprecedented fiscal debt, and the end that has been drawn to many pandemic bail-out policies. Ultimately, in the face of these looming threats to inequality, Prof. Blundell championed a lifecycle view - that is mindful of the ethnic, gendered, geographic, and diverse dimensions - of inequality. He further emphasised the importance of private and public sector alliances, in tackling inequalities, as they will only become increasingly critical and salient issues in post-pandemic economies.


 

KEY QUOTES:


  • “Market regulation and competition policy become as much an inequality policy as they are an economic efficiency policy"


  • “For a while, we actually thought inequality would be off the agenda. It'll be all about health, and all about access to health and survival. But, of course, far from pushing inequality down the agenda, the pandemic has reinforced the need to deal with the challenges posed by inequality"


  • “What has happened over the last two decades, a huge increase in the demand for e-commerce and information technology, was really spurred on during the pandemic, and the resulting increase in the skill premium and the education premium (...) has been quite extraordinary."


  • “The patterns of work for those who don't make it to education have really fallen back over a long period of two or three decades now, and alongside that of course, we've had increasing earnings inequality - with particularly adverse labour market shocks, especially for men actually - coupled with poor career progression for low-educated workers."


  • “We've got increasing in-work poverty, with employment alone increasingly not enough to escape poverty and low earnings. For someone like me, that's quite a startling thing to happen, because it was often thought that once people were in work, they would work themselves out of poverty."


  • “It's been a relatively successful pandemic as far as inequality in the short-term is concerned. (...) In fact, if there had been no policy response, inequality in income would have risen shockingly across Europe. But actually, responses from governments have meant that inequality has either been pretty stable as measured by the gini, or even fallen. (...) But most of these measures have been temporary, and have have just finished."

 

Press release written by Leon Beaufils and Ingrid Bahnemann


VIDEO RECORDING OF THE TALK:


You will find the video recording of Richard Blundell's full talk, delivered at WES 2022, here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/onpn6vmjv9dknaj/AAAW8_FhPJirfNLNQyENpwwNa/Day%201?dl=0&lst=&preview=RichardBlundell_Day1.mp4

 

A NOTE ON PRESS RELEASE REDISTRIBUTION:


If you, or any organisation which you represent (media, educational, or otherwise) would like a bespoke press release regarding Richard Blundell's WES 2022 talk - or any of our other 2022 talks - please get in touch with our Press and Communications team at presscoordinator@warwickeconomicssummit.com

We are also able to provide full event transcripts, or bespoke collections of quotes from Richard Blundell's (or any other WES 2022) talk upon request.


Any press release or promotional material issued relating to Richard Blundell's talk at WES 2022 must explicitly mention Warwick Economics Summit by name. Where this requirement has been upheld, third parties are free to produce and distribute their own press releases at will.

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