The inequality we are seeing now began, in our country, in the eighties with Big Bang. The Greed is Good and the Loadsamoney mentality permeated the Thatcher years. The same attitude continued in certain circles through the Banker Worship of the Blair era and lies behind the crippling costs of social welfare in our country at the moment. I never got with that programme.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to penalise those who do well. The Liberal Democrats are the party of success and achievement. When the richest one percent of Britons own the same amount of wealth as 54 percent of the population, however, something has to change.(1)
Economist, Thomas Piketty, warns that if inequality in the West continues to grow at the current rate, society as we know it will collapse. At present, the state is being required to make up in benefits for the poor salaries some companies pay to their lowest paid employees. We cannot afford to continue to do this. (2) .
Let me offer you an example: Over the two years between 2011 and 2013 the CEO of SSE a received a 79% pay rise. His actual remuneration increased from £1.45m to £2.6m. Meanwhile, average wages did not rise at all and 10.6 million individuals in the UK were living in absolute poverty. (3) Funnily enough, trickle-down does not seem to be working.
Of course, many smaller companies have simply not been able to increases wages over the past five years. Understand that. Other larger companies, though, the kind who have been increasing shareholder dividends and executive pay, seem to have forgotten that if you increase the wages of your lowest earners, you will be rewarded with more loyalty and better work. Paying a decent wage takes away your staff’s need to worry on your time about when/whether they will receive their housing benefit, problems they may have with heating their homes, paying food bills or how they are to afford the school uniform. It’s that basic. Take those worries away and you get more focus, better attention to detail and a more efficient and effective job done. The political Philosopher Elder Shafir talks movingly on how just a little extra security helps increase people’s ‘mental bandwidth‘, which makes for a better life, better work and a better society.
From the point of view of the UK, as a whole, paying people a living wage releases low paid individuals from the bonds of in-work benefits, which releases pressure on the welfare system and so releases funds to pay for the schools, NHS, police, roads, army etc etc, essential services, shared by us all – including the people who run successful large businesses in the UK.
In government, the Liberal Democrats have smuggled through some of the most socially democratic policies for a generation and softened the blow of austerity a little, but there is still far more do to.
Picture: Judith Bunting with Nicola Padfield, Master of Fitzwilliam College.
In 1869, Fitzwilliam opened its doors as a rooming society for students who could not afford Cambridge College fees. There after it continued to encourage students from modest backgrounds and support them through a Cambridge education. In the seventies, the College became one of the first in Cambridge to offer A level entry to students of state schools. In 1979 they opened their doors to women (including Judith Bunting). In 2014 the College welcomed its first female master, Prof Nicola Padfield. Equality Matters – Shout about it!
1 Oxfam – the The Relentless Rise of Food Poverty in Britain, June 2014
2 Capital in the 21st Century
3 Absolutely poverty is defined as earning 60% or less than median income ie: £13,728 pa at that time.