In the run up to Christmas, the information and campaigning Group InequalityBriefing.org produced the above report on the 3 million people in this country who live in poverty (or "severe material deprivation" as defined by the ONS). This affects at least 5% of our population.
Next they published a briefing that showed the richest 1% in our society have got richer. In 1978 the top 1% got 6% of national income while in 2009 (latest figures - note under a Labour government) they got 14%!
Finally, on 20 December they published a report called "Can you live on a minimum wage?". They used figures from my Borough Newham (which is one of least expensive places to live in London) which shows if you survive on a minimum wage you would have £4 per week after paying for your essential living expenses. Of course people can't live on that and either work all the hours they can, have 2 or 3 jobs, use food banks or depend on loan sharks (legal or otherwise).
I spent Christmas in North Wales and visited members of my family who do really difficult jobs and are bringing up kids on a minimum wage and insecure employment contracts. Life is really tough for them.
So what is the answer to widespread poverty and inequality in Britain?
The answer in my view (apology for rant) has got to include:-
- A Living Wage for all as the new minimum wage. A Living Wage that will (eventually) also pay a living pension, decent sickness benefits and employment rights.
- Binding Wage councils between trade union and employers in sectors that can afford more than a living wage.
- Truly progressive taxation to make sure that those who can really afford it - pay their fair share.
- Democratise shareholding to make sure that our Pension and insurance funds take their responsibility of ownership serious and stop us being ripped off by excessive executive remuneration.
- Re-balance power in the workplace and enable trade unions to protect workers and win back a greater share of national income for wages.
- Quality and well funded public services designed to prevent people falling into poverty in the first place and bringing them out if they do.
- Better regulation and intervention by local and national government to fix broken markets and protect consumers.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of each particular policy above, unless there is change then I am convinced that the long term future of this country as a free (but imperfect) stable Parliamentary democracy subject to the rule of law is at risk.
If the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer then you don't have to have a degree in history to know what will eventually happen. The Labour Party needs to resume its historic mission to act and save capitalism from itself.