UK is an Unequal Society

Inequality – Source: Creative Commons – 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

So many lies, so much spin, so many cover-ups, so much poverty, so much inequality, so much division, and so much corruption. I wondered whether the Red Wall voters were still pleased with the 80 seat majority they helped to confer on Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party in 2019. I doubt it.

The Conservative Party has been described as the most successful political party in the world. By ‘success’ in this context means success in winning elections, not success in governing the country. The Conservative Party has been in government for 50 of the last 73 years (70%) since 1950, so in that sense, it has been very successful. Whether that correlates with 50 years of successful government is very doubtful.

Inequality in the UK

The rise in inequality started with the Thatcher government in 1979, as Robert Reich (Guardian 14 February 2022) notes.

Take inequality in household disposable income. The net ‘Gini’ coefficient (the accepted measure of inequality based on relative incomes) of UK income inequality has worsened from about 25% in 1977 to about 36% today, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Of course, within that average figure of 36%, there are pockets of more severe income inequality in several regions of the UK and in several segments of society such as ethnic minorities. Also inequality is not just about income.

The unbridled capitalism and privatisation unleashed by Thatcher, continued under Major, maintained under Blair, and reignited under Cameron and Johnson, decimated the previous notions of ‘One Nation’, ‘Public Services’, and ‘We’re all in this together’, and set up a much more divided society in which the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

Strong capitalist policies were justified by Conservatives on the basis of ‘trickle down’, so-called private enterprise dynamism and associated economic efficiency. Created wealth at the top would be spent in the economy, and everyone else would benefit from the spending and the efficiencies and jobs thus created.

Unfortunately this didn’t happen. UK productivity levels fell further below European levels. Much of the generated private sector wealth got siphoned off into off-shore companies with untraceable owners who paid little or no tax. Established and successful British companies were sold off to foreign buyers. Rich owners gutted companies and moved their wealth abroad, and donated huge sums to the Conservative Party to help perpetuate their exploitative opportunities, and inequality continued.

Successive Conservative governments knowingly brought about, sustained, and extended the high and divisive levels of income, wealth and other inequalities seen in the UK today.

Poverty in the UK

Meanwhile UK poverty remains extremely high even though it should be unacceptable and unnecessary in a modern Western and relatively wealthy country.

UK poverty levels have not changed substantially since 1974, even though UK GDP per head in real terms has more than doubled since 1980. In 1994, poverty was at 24% (children 33%) and in 2018/19 it was 22% (children 30%). Meanwhile, worldwide poverty levels (incomes under $5.5 dollars per day) have reduced significantly, from around 66% in 1981 to around 43% in 2019, as a result of food aid programmes and growth in world GDP.

On this definition of poverty, the UK has 12% of the population in poverty, compared with 5% in Iceland, and 28% in South Africa. Again there is plenty of both upside and downside potential.

How much poverty there is in a relatively wealthy country is a matter of choice, made mostly by the voting public and their chosen government. Successive Conservative governments have chosen regressive rather than progressive taxation policies, painful limits on welfare, and light touch regulation, providing the context for the rich to get richer, the poor to get poorer and for poverty levels to stay higher than necessary.

 The Levelling Up Agenda

The opening remark of the government’s Levelling Up White Paper Summary is: “The United Kingdom is an unparalleled success story”. It is not, though the Government would like you to think it was.

The paper then goes on to describe the various needs and opportunities for reducing some of the regional inequalities that it recognises as existing. Unfortunately, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not provided any extra money for the Levelling Up programme, so that policy remains on hold. When rhetoric meets hard reality, the latter wins, so it looks likely that poverty, inequality, unfairness, and division will continue to get worse.

The sums made available through the ‘Towns Fund’ and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund are nowhere near sufficient to seriously address the Levelling Up agenda. Also there is serious doubt about the fairness of the mechanisms for allocating those funds.

Lies, Spin, Confusion, Distraction

Enough has been said about the lies, cronyism and corruption coming from the prime minister, the Conservative Party and the government, particularly around Brexit, Parliament, the General Election 2019, covid management, Sewagegate, Wallpapergate, Partygate and beyond.

Recently, we had a statement from the Prime Minister, saying that he is:

“… getting out of London, delivering on the people’s priorities, and focusing on the job of uniting and levelling up the country.”

Words are cheap, and the Prime Minister is a practised liar. Johnson knows that everyone knows that he is actually focusing on his own personal ‘Save Big Dog’ priorities, but he covers this up by talking about ‘the public’s priorities’. He knows he has dis-united and divided the country with his hard Brexit and hard-right-wing policies, but he still claims to be ‘uniting the country’, and he knows his Levelling Up policy is an unfinanced policy which isn’t going anywhere, but still claims to be doing it.   

Contradictions, lies, and deceit one after the other. This government and Parliamentary Party is split and incapable of agreeing on and delivering a proper plan for the future improvement of this country. They are fooling the people and the country and we are all paying the price.

A Divisive Government

At the heart of a good government, there needs to be a set of very straightforward moral values which the public largely accept and want and the government agrees with and delivers on.

This is far from the case with this government. The public need and deserve to live in a society which is at peace with itself and its neighbours. This Conservative government has its own more partisan agenda, which is to continue to hold on to power by any means in order to deliver a low tax, small state, English Nationalist type of society. This agenda also protects its base of support with the higher income, wealthier, more nostalgic and more nationalistically-minded citizens, corporate business, and wealthy donors. This is knowingly divisive.

Witness the permanently unequal society:

  • the absence of poverty-relieving taxation and welfare policies,
  • the absence of serious regional policy,
  • the neglect of the NHS,
  • the support for companies within the privatised industries like water and energy,
  • the casualness over diversity policy,
  • the abuse and neglect of asylum seekers,
  • the assault on democratic values,
  • the readiness to pursue culture wars,
  • the amoral manipulation of public opinion,
  • the contempt for constitutional conventions, and
  • the deliberate antagonism over relations with Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and the EU.

All at the expense of the wider public interest.

If you like living in an increasingly divided, unequal, undemocratic, unfair, corrupt country like the UK and don’t mind being lied to, then vote Conservative.

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