Feeling low? Switch off celebrity news

October 22nd, 2008 - 4:09 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Oct 22 (IANS) Media coverage of the rich makes the middle classes feel the wealth gap is widening, says the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).According to the Paris-based body of the world’s 30 wealthiest countries, news coverage of the luxurious lives led by celebrities causes the middle classes to feel poorer than they are.

In a report launched Tuesday, the OECD said Labour-led Britain has seen the biggest drop in inequality in the developed world since 2000 - but the wealth gap remains one of the highest among rich nations.

“Although poverty rates and inequality have fallen since the start of the decade, the UK remains an extremely unequal country compared with other OECD members,” the report said - the richest 10 percent of the British population earn nearly nine times the income of the poorest 10 percent.

The report found that poverty has fallen significantly in Britain, with income poverty - the number of households on less than half the average income - falling from 10 percent to 8 percent between the mid-1990s and 2005.

“For the first time since the 1980s, the poverty level is well below the OECD average,” said the authors of the report.

However, although Britain’s wealth gap has narrowed significantly, the report said many people have a different perception - because of media coverage of billionaires and celebrities.

The report called it the ‘Hello! magazine effect’ - named for the glossy magazine that allows ordinary people to have a peek into the homes and lifestyles of the rich and famous, primarily through photographs.

It said: “This difference between what the data shows and what people think reflects the so-called ‘Hello! magazine effect’ - we read about the super-rich, who are getting much richer and attracting more media attention as a result.”

Mark Pearson, head of social policy at the OECD, said the decline in inequality in Britain had been “remarkable” but suggested another reason families were not noticing the improvement in incomes was because Labour had been redistributing wealth “by stealth”.

He said the government has not advertised the billions of pounds it has been spending on helping the least well-off citizens, because its social programmes have imposed a tax burden on the middle classes.

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