I started to write about the growing level of inequality in our country in 2011, shortly after reading Wilkinson and Pickett’s ‘The Spirit Level’. My post from that time discusses the role of inequality in the riots of 2011. It’s easy to forget that 3,000 were arrested, 5 killed and 16 injured, just a short while ago.
How can it remain the case that bankers and CEO’s can take millions in bonuses and privileges while workers cannot get guaranteed work, must tolerate zero hours contracts and wage insecurity?
It was not always like this. As Tony Judt [in his last book, ‘Ill Fares the Land’] points out:
“From the late 19th century until the 1970’s, the advanced societies of the West were all becoming less unequal. Thanks to progressive taxation, government subsidies for the poor, the provision of social services and guarantees against acute misfortune (currently in force as compensation schemes for victims of the riots!), modern democracies were shedding extremes of wealth and poverty….”
“Over the past thirty years we have thrown all this away. To be sure, ‘we’ varies with country. The greatest extremes of private privilege and public indifference have resurfaced in the US and the UK: epicentres of enthusiasm for deregulated market capitalism.”
This is not about socialism or liberalism; it is about fairness, justice and wisdom. Without these three we are bound to see the divides in our society grow and with it our inability to benefit from knowledge and experience, the two major components of wisdom.
In 2011 I could not have anticipated our present situation, post referendum. I had no idea that our ignored millions would be offer a chance to express their dissatisfaction and attempt to reverse their fortunes, to put us back on the track that Tony Judt describes above, towards a more equal, fairer society.
Furthermore, since 2011, things have got steadily worse: the UK is more unequal in incomes, wealth, health, education and life chances than at any time since the 1920’s. There are more poor children in the UK than in any other country of the European Union. Since 1973, inequality in take-home pay increased more in the UK than anywhere except the US. The consequences are clear. There has been a collapse in inter-generational mobility. The poor stay poor. Economic disadvantage translates into ill-health, missed educational opportunity and increasingly the familiar symptoms of depression, alchoholism, obesity and minor criminality.
Just today, 4 April 2017, we hear of more and more children being pushed into poverty, more and more young people having their support removed. Here are two links, the second putting forth an interesting argument about why Danish babies cry least – inevitably based in better provision, thoughtfuness and support for parents of newborns in Denmark:
My point? The referendum and our relationship with Europe is the biggest possible diversion from what really matters. Not only will it prove hugely expensive, taking resources from hard pressed communities and groups, but it is certain to fail those at the bottom of the equality ladder, whether our economy benefits or not. Because it fails to address re-distribution and cleverly seized upon by May in the supposedly patriotic ‘Great Repeal Bill’ makes it more likely that the ruling elite takes more powers unto itself, an elite that is already cutting benefits and support for the vulnerable.
Be prepared to read much more about struggle, distress and despair that no amount of flag waving and singing Rule Britannia will drown out.