Thursday, 2 October 2014

Britain in a Bubble

Britain appears to be living in a bubble. It is a State of hypnosis.

How else can one explain the situation there?

One Mile, Two Worlds

Muirhouse is a housing estate in north west Edinburgh. I spent time there during the Scottish Referendum, knocking on doors and talking to the people who live there. Some of the people living in the Muirhouse estate are very, very poor. 

About one mile away is Fettes College. It's a private school - Tony Blair is an alumnus - where fees are currently just over £30,000 per year, per pupil.

That one mile represents the wealth gap in Scotland. On the one hand, people living in grinding, inescapable poverty. On the other, wealth. These two bubbles - poor and rich - never touch. People living in poverty see the rich in their smart cars as they whizz past the bus stop, or on the TV. The wealthy rarely if ever see the poor, failing to realise that the woman cleaning the downstairs washroom is living on a tenth or a hundredth of their income. Or failing at the least to understand the implications of living on so little.

This is the consequence of the neo-liberal policies that all three main Westminster parties now pursue. The disingenuous idea that wealth will "trickle down" to the poor. 

One large man in a kilt told me a while before the Referendum that by allowing the wealthy to get richer and encouraging philanthropy, charities would balance society's books.

Many charities do phenomenal work. But they are not the solution.

Total charitable expenditure in the UK is £38 bn. That is less than a quarter of total UK Government spend on welfare, £160 bn in 2011-12. Governments, not charities, must be the conduit by which wealth is transferred by taxation from the comfortably-off to people living in poverty.

The wealth gap is morally wrong. It is also bad for the economy, as Martin Wolf, Chief Economist at the Financial Times pointed out yesterday

But to read the political news you would think that the wealth gap did not exist. The Conservative Party, the likely winners of the 2015 General Election in the UK, have announced a benefits freeze for the poor and no tax increase for the rich. 

Britain seems to be caught in the neo-liberal hypnosis. We had our one opportunity to wake up with the Referendum, but a majority in Scotland decided to sleep on.

Which Prince will wake slumbering Scotland with a kiss of life?

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