The Unacceptable Face of Inequality in Britain Today

Has Britain become more unequal in the last thirty years is a reasonable question to ask given the huge social changes which have evolved since the onset of the revolution of Thatcher’s premiership, through Blair’s radical revamp of the Labour party to New Labour and now enshrined in the warring Coalition and the constant mantra of all of them of their drive to improve “social mobility”. Given the wealth of equality legislation nationally and supported by the European legislation and attendant case law in the European courts the answer should be a resounding yes, what however is the true answer?
I believe there are five major measurements of in/equality in society and the opportunities that are available to people to access them is the key :-
• Housing
• Jobs
• Education
• Tax Distribution
• Class

At a time when it is statistically proven that the housing stock is at an all time low, less and less houses are being built, the government no longer sees itself as an agency of affordable housing but still requires Local Authorities to house the homeless, clearly the access to affordable housing in the rented sector for those unable to buy is dire.
The consequences of a policy by the Thatcher government and further pursued by New Labour of selling council housing and not building replacements clearly disenfranchises a large section of society and leaves them open to an insecure future and sends a message from government of rented housing provided by Local Authorities is a transitory dumping ground for people whilst they improve their lot and if they do not then that’s tough and we don’t care what happens to you.

Jobs and the type of work available to people outside of the “professions” over thirty years of government policy against Trade Unions and manufacturing businesses by both Thatcher and New Labour has changed considerably from a strong manufacturing base to the service sector which has resulted in jobs where people are less secure with flexible and often unsocial hours, less pension and sickness arrangements if any and no redress due to lack of collective ability to challenge unfair practices by the employer over wages and terms and conditions.
Go to any Call Centre, large retail outlet or service industry hospitality venue and ask those who work there what their experience is and the answer may well be “Well what else can I do round here?” That will almost certainly be the only work available to a large section of our society.

Successive governments over thirty years have advocated more and more people going to university and the figure quoted was 50% by Brown when he was the unelected Prime Minister. Why?
The answer given was “We need a strong, highly educated workforce to compete in the world markets. Undoubtedly this is correct, but what constitutes a highly educated workforce? A university education is the only one it seems.
Statistically the top universities still overwhelmingly have people from the same strands of society attending them and your chances of a top university education are extremely slim if you belong to certain sections of society. Public schools disproportionately are represented in those universities.
Top university graduates overwhelmingly are represented across the board at the highest levels nationally in Politics, Law, Academia, Business, Civil Service, Religion, The Armed Forces and the other august institutions where power is exercised and influenced in our society.
So, a public school background combined with an Oxbridge university education still means that you are most likely to have a successful life no matter what and purely, because you are tapped into all the networks of influence and control of wealth and opportunity that are available to you.
Access by others to these networks is limited and restricted just by the school you attended.

Tax Distribution.
I hate to quote statistics because someone will always provide other research which suggests they are wrong or manipulated but here are a couple.
1. Benefit Fraud costs the exchequer £1BN per annum
2. Tax evasion/avoidance costs the exchequer in the region of £40BN per annum
3. In 2009/10 there were 5 prosecutions for direct tax evasion/avoidance per £1BN of fraud
4. In 2009/10 there were 9000 prosecutions for benefit fraud per £1BN of fraud.

You do the maths, but it is obvious to me where the biggest cost to the country lies and the myth perpetuated by irresponsible media and government of huge swathes of people defrauding the exchequer is right, but it isn’t in benefit fraud.Clearly there are some still in our society who continue to believe in the temporary nature of tax since it’s first introduction by William Pitt the Younger in 1799 and you are more likely to pay a greater proportion of your income in tax the less you earn and as a large corporation it is your duty to your shareholders, who of course come before anyone else to avoid as much tax as possible, often aided by some of the biggest accountancy firms in the world.

Class is probably one of the most contentious subjects to approach in our society in a dispassionate and measured way. We are all middle class is one famous politicians outpouring. How wrong could they be?
Class is always difficult to define and should best be left to the individual and the spread of the Thamesian accent amongst the rich and famous is perhaps an indicator that we all aspire to the working class. “I work therefore I am working class” to paraphrase Descartes.
Owen Jones in his “ Chavs-The Demonisation of the Working Class” defines working class as :-
1. Working for others
2. Having little or no autonomy in the work you do
3. Receiving less than the national median wage
4. Looking for work and claiming benefits

You could add others such as Terms and Conditions, Pension and Sickness arrangements, Wage scales and job security etc which are all indicators of the work you do but basically if you work for someone else, are told how to do it and have no power over your work life or you are looking for work and claiming benefits (which is often a job in itself!) you are working class. This class is more diverse than any other as is visible in society today. The “higher” you look in society the more mainstream and less diverse it becomes. This has changed little in over thirty years and is an instant picture of in/equality in society if you are looking for one.
So the legal characteristics of difference are more highly concentrated in the working class and may add to the disadvantage and lack of opportunity in individuals but all people in this class suffer a disadvantage to some degree or another.

It is clear that society is more unequal than ever and in my work in other countries I often hear from my colleagues that those countries are corrupt and corruption is endemic. I am not suggesting that UK is more corrupt than other countries but what is the society that we want and how fair do we want it to be?
How do we define corruption?
We have had scandal after scandal in politics (Expenses and Lobbying), business (Libor etc), The BBC (Savile) and other media institutions and the Police (Leveson), the NHS (Staffordshire), The Armed Forces (Camp Bastion detainees) and still we hear always “We need to learn the lessons from this make sure it doesn’t happen again and move on”
Move on to where? Where we can conveniently forget about it?

How can we reduce inequality and do we want to?
• Build more affordable rented housing under the management of Local Authorities
• Invest in Manufacturing
• Collect the tax due to the Exchequer
• Improve State Education
• Improve working conditions through legislation

This is ultimately a question of leadership and if we have a leadership which continues to put self interest before ethics, things will remain the same for another thirty years and beyond.

I have deliberately not referred to the wealth of statistics available to support these arguments because they are out there if you want them.
Some of my references are:-

The Great Tax Robbery- Richard Brooks 2013
Chavs- The Demonisation of the Working Classes- Owen Jones 2012
The Downing Street Years- Margaret Thatcher 1993
The Hierarchy of Human Needs- Abraham Maslow 1954

2 Responses

  1. Mui
    said on July 13, 2013

    Thank you Tod for this vignette on in/equality. It certainly presents information which is easily digested and clearly raises issues on several fundamental areas about inequality.

    Your conversations with me about the NHS underpin all aspects within this article i.e. knowing your rights and the ability to pursue them.

    Additionally, I believe, the outcomes as outlined in your article are dire for our society in England – we have a coalition who lack an understanding of basic human needs.

    The result is a very divided society – the haves and have nots.

    The haves might also be spiritually poor resulting in a lack of awareness about the plight of others who do not have the finances to feed themselves and their families.

    Everyone has a right to affordable housing, satisfying and appropriately paid employment, health care, early years provision & schools where staff are fully equipped with the skills, knowledge and emotional intelligence to ensure every individual child thrives emotionally and academically. Currently these rights are not being achieved by many – add the issue of mental ill health and the outcome is catastrophic.

    We need prevention and appropriate interventions – your statistics highlight tax evasion by the richest corporations and individuals. Amazon, Star Bucks, Google to name but a few. Profits for industries which were once state owned such as Gas, Water & Electricity are at an all time high. Shareholders become richer, whilst the poor become poorer. The gap is increasing.

    A democratic society ensures this doesn’t happen.

  2. said on July 13, 2013

    Dear Mui
    Thank you for your most incisive and astute comment.
    I hope you continue to find my thoughts interesting in the future.


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