Equality has always been a dream of mankind: political systems have tried to provide it and failed; societies have tried to provide it and have been marginally successful. There have always been more fortunate and less fortunate people in society and the latter have always suffered. The aim of every welfare state is to try and alleviate some of these problems because the negative effects impact both the individual and society.
Inequality impacts the individual directly by restricting his purchasing power. He is unable to provide any small luxuries and certainly not basic necessities. Summer holidays, family outings, new technology and the like are the first to go. Clothes are mended and passed down to younger siblings; meals are simple and basic; living areas are crowded and people learn to share early on. Children work in the summer and cannot socialize after class. They go to state schools and have fewer opportunities later in life. Meanwhile those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths go to the best schools, go on two holidays a year and enjoy all the privileges their family can provide. The worst thing is that the two groups of people are well aware of each other’s situation: shanty towns exist side by side with modern apartment blocks and television broadcasts the life of the well to do middle class family. In short, inequality creates a lot of resentment too.
The anger simmering below the surface does eventually boil over as inequality can prompt social and political change. The Russian revolution was a direct result of the rift between the boyars and the peasants. The resulting turmoil caused the overthrow of an ancient dynasty. Inequality can bring people out into the streets to protest their situation causing economic problems for the government. Riots cause property damage and people get hurt. The widening rift in society may cause the well to do to look down on the less fortunate in all walks of life. The widening gap between the have and the have nots is a recipe for disaster. In short, people suffering inequality tend to express their anger, which in turn impacts society and the political system.
The answer to all this is the welfare state and all it has to offer. Providing free housing to the less fortunate is the first step and food is the next. Meals could be served to children at school and poor families could get hot meals distributed to them by the municipality or by organizations like meals on wheels. Free health care is the next step and this should be followed by small luxuries like public parks, public entertainment and the like. If the needy are fed housed and clothed, they will have less to complain about and be happier.