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Richness, insecurity and the welfare state

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-07-06, 15:47 authored by Katharina Hecht, Tania Burchardt, Abigail DavisAbigail Davis

Across many countries, increases in inequality driven by rising top incomes and wealth have not been accompanied by growing popular concern. In fact, citizens in unequal societies are less concerned than those in more egalitarian societies. Understanding how the general public perceive richness is an essential step towards resolving this paradox. We discuss findings from focus group research in London, UK, a profoundly and visibly unequal city, which sought to explore public perceptions of richness and the rich. Participants from diverse socio-economic backgrounds discussed their views of the ‘wealthy’ and the ‘super rich’ with reference to both vast economic resources and more intangible aspects, including, crucially, security. High levels of wealth and income were perceived to be necessary for achieving security for oneself and one’s family. The security of the rich was discussed in contrast to participants’ own and others’ insecurity in the context of a (neo)liberal welfare regime, specifically, insecurity about housing, personal finances, social security, health care and the future of the welfare state. In unequal countries, where insecurity is widespread, lack of confidence in collective welfare state provision may serve in the public imagination to legitimate private wealth accumulation and richness as a form of self-protection.


Trust for London

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG - German Research Foundation) under Germany’s Excellence Strategy - EXC-2035/1 - 390681379

Andrea Mitchell Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy

Research Unit

  • Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP)

Published in

Journal of Social Policy


Cambridge University Press


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© The Authors

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This is an Open Access Article. It is published by Cambridge University Press under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC BY). Full details of this licence are available at:

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Abigail Davis. Deposit date: 1 June 2022