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Inequality rules

UK is ‘land of plenty’ – for just one per cent
Hajera Blagg, Monday, April 27th, 2015

Welcome to Britain – the most unequal country in Europe and nearly the most unequal in the developed world.

Figures released recently have shown that while the vast majority of people in the UK bore the brunt of the economic downturn, suffering wage stagnation and a cost of living crisis not seen since Victorian times, the nation’s top one per cent did not suffer at all.

In fact, they vastly improved their lot – the richest 1,000 families more than doubled their wealth since the recession, with their assets now totalling £547bn, up from £258bn in 2009. Britain is now home to more billionaires than any other country in the world.

This land of plenty for a select few stands in sharp contrast to the fortunes of millions around the country. The 1,000 people occupying the Sunday Times Rich List control more wealth than the poorest 40 per cent combined.

As food bank use soars and low-paying jobs dominate the economy, what could theoretically be done with all this extra cash the mega-rich have amassed in the last year of the Tory-led coalition government?

According to the Equality Trust, last year the 100 richest households increased their wealth by £40.1bn. This spare cash – much of which is hoarded in tax havens – would be enough to:

• Elevate all of the roughly 1.386m minimum wage jobs to Living Wage jobs
• Pay 14 years of grocery bills for each and every family now using a food bank
• Buy houses for all homeless people living in London
• Provide 18 times the value of annual loans provided by the payday lending industry



It’s no coincidence, either, that skyrocketing wealth inequality began to accelerate exponentially just as the Conservative government took control five years ago.

Their programme of ever-higher doses of austerity for the most vulnerable, tax giveaways to the uber-rich, and pay policies – for example, public sector pay freezes and scrapping the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) – have all contributed to a level of income inequality not seen anywhere else in Europe.

A YouGov poll conducted last year has shown, too, that the vast majority of voters actually want a more equitable society. A full 56 per cent of those surveyed supported greater income equality, even if that meant reducing the total amount of wealth. And even a sizeable portion of Conservative voters polled – roughly one in three – supported a more income equitable society as well.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner argued that the latest findings on growing income inequality challenge an ideology now held as a commonly accepted truth.

“These figures yet again expose the outrageous lie that is ‘trickle-down’ economics,” he said. “The enormous wealth of a tiny number of people is made on the backs of ordinary working people; there has been no crisis for the billionaires while millions are stuck in low-wage, insecure jobs, turning to food banks in record numbers. Families up and down the country are struggling to make ends meet and wondering whether their kids will have a home of their own in the future.

“This skyrocketing income inequality is a direct result of Tory policies designed to benefit the richest at the expense of the hardest working,” Turner added. “But we can have an alternative to this, with a growing economy creating decent jobs for all, with good wages benefitting everyone. The first step in achieving this aim is to get the Tories and Lib Dems out and a Labour government in at the election next week.”





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