By Green Party MEP Keith Taylor
Is there a starker reminder of the inequalities in our society than the publication of The Sunday Times Rich List?
Once a year the paper adds fame to the fortune of the richest people in our land. 2014’s list revealed that we have now have over 100 billionaires enjoying the high life in the upper echelons of our society.
The publication of The Rich List this year came just after new figures revealed what’s going on at the other end of our economy. Those stats, from the Trussel Trust, showed a huge increase in the number of people needing emergency handouts from food banks. In my constituency, where many of the billionaires have a property or two, the number of food bank users was up by over 100%.
For some, the food bank figures won’t be cause for alarm. If the food bank users work hard enough, some will say, they too can become the billionaires of tomorrow. But, behind this British adaptation of the American dream, lies the fact that those born into poverty are highly unlikely to make it to the top while those born into wealth will probably die rich. Indeed a study by the OECD showed that Britain has the lowest level of social mobility of any of the similar countries surveyed.
‘Working your way out of poverty’ is an appealing slogan for politicians, but the reality is that the majority of people in poverty are working. Many employers don’t pay staff enough to get by on, so people are forced to work all of the hours of the day to keep their heads above water.
It’s no coincidence, by the way, that a highly unequal country like Britain has low social mobility. According to economists like Joseph Stiglitz, inequality stifles people’s chance of climbing up the ladder.
It’s astounding, when you take a moment to think about it, that we live in a country where your chances in life continue to be closely linked to the income of your parents. For the 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK, the chances of ever appearing in the Sunday Times Rich List, are impossibly slim.
Free marketers will accuse those of us worried about inequality of engaging in the ‘politics of envy’. But this is the politics of justice. The market is not free and never will be. Instead it is rigged against those with the least. It shouldn’t be seen as radical to say that we don’t want billionaires to get richer while poor people suffer, yet the media derides those who dare to stand up against inequality.
Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital, hits on one of the great injustices in our society. That the super rich – who own multiple properties as house prices surge, gamble on the stock market and set up offshore bank accounts – are drowning in income they aren’t working for, while many people are working for an income that doesn’t even cover the basics.
In the UK the level of inequality is shocking. Figures released today show that the top 10% of households own 44% of the wealth in this country, while the bottom 50% own just 9% of the wealth. One if five people have no savings whatsoever.
There can be no greater challenge to a just society than a gaping divide between rich and poor. And it’s a problem that, by it’s very nature, will only get worse unless serious action is taken. That means both lifting the poorest out of poverty and also bringing the richest back down to earth.
And that is where the European elections on May 22nd come in. For Greens these elections are all about the kind of economy we want in Britain. Do we want an economy run for 104 billionaires, or for everyone else? Neither the Coalition, nor Labour have used their chance in power to deal with the soaring wealth at the top of British society – and UKIP would prefer to blame migrants for the country’s problems while letting their millionaire mates off the hook.
Greens are different. We aren’t afraid to say that we want social security protected and the richest in society to contribute more. We have no millionaire backers stopping us from clamping down on the speculators in the City. The bankers don’t like it when Green MEPs cap their bonuses, or curb the power of finance firms, but we’re not in politics to please them, we’re in it to build a fairer society.
At this election everyone has a stark choice. You can either vote for ‘business as usual’ or you can vote Green for a party that takes inequality seriously, and isn’t scared of addressing the deep rooted imbalance in our economy. It’s time to say no to an economy which rewards the gamblers in the city and punishes the poor. And it’s time to say yes to a politics that dares to challenge the power of those with the money.
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