Vast Inequality Is a Stain on Our Society

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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.

 You can read the original article in Huffington Post here

Follow Keith Taylor on Twitter here 

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LONDON’S ‘HOTHOUSES’ NEED ENERGY EFFICIENCY MEASURES,

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London’s buildings are often expensive to heat or cool and poorly insulated according to Green Party MEP, Jean Lambert.

In a message for Earth Day, which was marked by events across the globe yesterday, she said energy efficiency and conservation measures were key to cutting London’s greenhouse gas emissions – and lowering energy bills.

Earth Day, marked by the UN each year on April 22, this year took as its focus ‘green cities’.

The UN estimates more than half of the world’s population lives in cities – and has called for a ‘transition’ towards renewable energy generation and investment in energy efficiency in urban areas.

Ms Lambert said: “Almost a decade ago I wrote a report looking in detail at how energy-inefficient London’s homes were – and the contribution that made to high energy bills and climate change.

“Without a concerted focus on sustainability in housing by the Mayor of London, little has changed.

“London still has some of the most inefficient housing in the UK – and we’ll have to invest in insulation and energy conservation if we are going to become the sustainable, healthy city Londoners need.

“Instead, we have a Mayor and a Government who are more concerned with weakening the laws protecting Londoners from the exhaust fumes and polluted air that’s killing 4,000 Londoners early every year and allowing fracking in South and South-East London.

“But London, like all the world’s great cities, will have to evolve as energy becomes more expensive and climate change worsens.

“As well as lowering our household energy bills, public investment in energy conservation could create thousands of much-needed jobs in London’s construction sector.”

Read Jean Lambert’s report ‘Hothouses: Climate Change and London’s Housing’, examining the state of energy efficiency in London’s housing stock. It’s available for download here:

 

 

REMEMBER BANGLADESH FACTORY DISASTER – ONE YEAR ON

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Green Party MEP Jean Lambert has urged support for one of the several events in the UK commemorating the Rana Plaza factory disaster, which took place exactly a year ago.

Some 1133 people were killed and over 2500 were injured – mostly workers in the Ready-Made Garment industry supplying clothes to UK High Streets – when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Jean Lambert visited Bangladesh last month as chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation to South Asia to discuss a wide range of political topics, including workers’ rights and factory safety.

Tomorrow she will mark the anniversary by visiting a garment factory in Finsbury Park, North London, to compare conditions faced by workers in the UK and Bangladesh.

The she will take part in a ‘Flash Mob’ on Oxford Street organised by ‘Fashion Revolution’ – a global campaign run by insiders calling for the fashion industry to clean up its supply chains.

Fashion revolution are urging people to wear clothes inside out for the day – so as to display the manufacturers’ label – to raise awareness of the Rana Plaza disaster.

Speaking at a recent conference on workers’ rights in the ready-made garment industry organised with aid charity Care International last week, the London Green MEP welcomed the ‘good’ progress being made on the appointment of factory inspectors, inspection of buildings and changes to Bangladesh’s employment law.

Jean Lambert said she was pleased that over 100 unions have been formed in the garment sector in the last year.

But she said there were still problems making sure all victims of the factory collapse and the earlier Tasreen factory fire received compensation – as not all companies selling the clothes made at Rana Plaza have paid into a compensation fund agreed last year.

“There remain problems – not just in relation to full compensation, but also in terms of what happens to workers and their jobs if a factory is found to be unsafe and forced to close,” she said.

“But the willingness is there from many stakeholders to make progress and better the living conditions and wages of the workers.

“The European Parliament will be watching to ensure that progress is maintained and that workers – many of whom are women – will be able to make a decent living in safe conditions.”