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Great Britain: an unequal society

How under Cameron’s government the problem of socioeconomic inequality has increased in the UK.

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Mario López-Goicoechea

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Cloudy or very cloudy skies are being forecasted. The minimum temperature will be 3° C and a maximum of 5° C. The presence of snow and slippery surfaces are expected, so you should take care when walking. Oh, and finally, these temperatures will be with us for a long time, including during spring and summer.

It would be a mistake to interpret this as the latest weather forecast when this is no more than the current state of the British economy. Frozen as a result of decisions made on the fly, mismanagement and lack of a clear and objective financial guidance, the economic future of Britain does not seem promising.

The speed with which the coalition of Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg cut social benefits as soon as they took over the power in May of 2010 shocked even the most faithful followers of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Instead of injecting funds into the economy, George Osborne, the current Chancellor, has taken away what little oxygen it depended on in just over a year and a half.

The coup de grace came last week when, as part of the reforms that have been carried out since 2010 in the welfare state, child benefit underwent radical and, according to many, irreversible changes.

However, neither Cameron nor Clegg, nor even the leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, dare name the socioeconomic evil which the UK suffers from: inequality.

According to a report produced by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS) “Why Inequality Matters”, between 2010 and 2011 the wage income of one hundred executives from large companies in Britain grew by 50%. Meanwhile the poorest 10% of the population received only one per cent of that bonanza. The same report estimates that between 2011 and 2014 the poorest households lost 6% of their income.

The consequences of this situation, which has been increasing in the last thirty years, are several: Compared with other Western countries, the position of the United Kingdom is one of the worst in several indicators.

For example, it is the second worst country for mental illness among 12 countries; it’s third among the nations with the worst problems of obesity, and ranks first as the worst country, out of 22 enlisted, for child welfare.

The social and economic inequality is not just a lack of balance between the 99% and 1% to quote the motto of the Occupy movement, but also the source of many evils whose devastating effects take generations to resolve.

For example, according to research by the aforementioned centre, past an income limit, the quality of life in a particular society does not improve. One element that would improve it however, is more equality. In the prologue of “Why Inequality Matters”, Owen Jones, author of “Chavs” (a complex and profound study of the demonization of the British working class), states that “the more money the wealthy class spends, the more those on the lower steps feel pressured to imitate them”.

Evidence of this phenomenon could sadly be seen in the riots and unrest that took place in the summer of 2011 in several English cities. Although the reason for the riots had not been political, but rather due to profit and greed, it isn’t hard to see that the hypocrisy of the Cameron-Clegg coalition played an important role.

An unequal society leads to more mental health problems and increased use of drugs as a method of alienation; it leads to deterioration of community life and social relations; to obesity problems, an increase in teenage pregnancies, and a growth of the prison population. This is the current situation in the UK.

There are solutions to achieve a greater degree of equality, but not the kind that this government wants to implement. Closing the “holes” through which most of the taxes of the large corporations escape through is one way. Limiting the maximum payment in a company and calculate it based on the lowest salary in the same would be another way. A third would be to name each employee as a shareholder of the organisation, as the John Lewis chain does, and that way make them co-owners of the profits.

There are many more steps, but instead, the Dave and Nick strategy is to “divide and conquer”. That’s why instead of talking about (in) equality, they prefer to do “scroungers vs. strivers”. With a disjointed workforce, it isn’t so hard to see the winter that arrived in May of 2010 and which shows no signs of retreating.

(Translated by Sophie Maling –  sophie_maling@hotmail.com)

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