Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Rising inequality - New Labour's shame (or one of them)

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the gap between rich and poor has risen to its highest level in more than forty years. Quelle surprise! It does rather beg the question, "What is the Labour Party for?" I suspect that few people in the last ten years have voted Labour because they believed that they would end up paying less tax. One reason they may have voted Labour is because they believe that this would make life easier for the poorest in society. The truth is - it doesn't and it never has.

My great aunt Betty (sadly deceased) was a Tory until the end of her long life. She had begun work at the age of 14, going to live and work with her sister and brother in law in a deprived part of Glasgow. Her first weekly wage was a princely eight shillings a week. Yet she realised that Labour was not interested in representing her. For decades, it was in the stranglehold of relatively well-paid male manual workers: miners, shipyard workers and the like. These people could afford to support the largest and most powerful unions, which were in turn motivated not by altruism or a desire to eliminate poverty, but by sheer naked greed to benefit their own members.

The single biggest factor has undoubtedly been family breakdown. Hundreds of thousands of boys in this country (especially black boys) are growing up with no male role model. I know, I was one of them. This in turn puts strain on social services: housing, social welfare, education and the legal system. It is all connected. Family breakdown means more households, which fuels the shortage of housing and raging house prices which exclude the poorest from getting on to the property ladder.

Take on the role of 'the other' for one moment. You are a young person, who is not terribly bright. You know that you cannot realistically aspire to anything other than a pretty low-paid job which means you don't have a hope of every being able to afford a house where you live. You also know, if you are female, that if you get yourself pregnant you will be handed a council house and welfare payments which will guarantee you security. Not luxury, but security. You may not be bright, but you are smart enough to see the solution for you. If you are male, it gets worse. You can see no benefit to conforming to society - if all it has to offer is a career grilling burgers or working in a call centre prior to your job being outsourced to India, the relative risk of getting involved in drugs or other criminal activities is not sufficient to act as any deterrent. So you go off the rails.

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