Facing the Facts
Mike Daily has written an article, ‘Inequalities of fact,’ rejecting claims that Britain is one of the developed world’s most unequal countries. He concludes:
‘…there are two key points to be made about the SNP’s claims that the UK is ‘one of the most unequal countries in the developed world’. It isn’t! Not in the developed world, and not even on the sole OECD Gini indicator it isn’t. The SNP, as always misrepresent and omit. And as I’ve illustrated, equality cannot be meaningfully represented by one single income indicator while ignoring all of the more positive factors that don’t fit in with the SNP’s story to sell ‘independence’ to Scots. So why mislead the people of Scotland?’
As ‘positive factors’, he cites ‘the UK’s first class National Health Service, local authority public services, and access to schools, housing, colleges and university education.’ Ironically, most of that list is being dismantled by Con-Dem austerity, after years of New Labour ‘modernisation’. Holyrood, by contrast, preserves what remains of these so-called British institutions, although this cannot last a No vote, which Westminster will see as a green light to cut the block grant.
Dailly says the GINI coefficient, which measures income inequality, is a crude way to measure overall social progress. So let us examine some more concrete socio-economic indicators.
Britain has among the lowest state pensions in Europe.
Spain £26,630 (113% average earnings)
Germany £26,366 (90% average earnings)
France £15,811 (53%)
Netherlands £10,981 (31%)
Denmark £11,381 (25%)
Ireland £10,415 (25%)
UK £7,488 (24%)
2) Our elderly population
Britain’s elderly fourth poorest of EU 27, with more than one-in-five at risk. See here.
3) Child Poverty
UK has some of the worst child poverty in industrialised world. According to World Health Organisation, this is “a policy choice” by Westminster. See here.
4) Environmental health
UK is third worst in Europe for using green energy. Only Malta and Luxemburg generate a lower proportion of green energy. Britain’s rate is 3.8 percent, Sweden’s is 48 percent, EU average 13%. See Business Green here and the Guardian here.
Research on green energy is nearly ten times higher in Japan and Finland. It is much higher in almost every comparable economy, including the US.
Source: Public Interest Research Centre, The Green Investment Gap, March 2011
Britain needs to spend £450 billion to meet its climate change targets. Existing funding sources will provide just £50-80 billion.
Source: Will Hutton, Them and Us
5) Equality in the workplace
6) Security of work
One-in-ten UK private sector workers are in “precarious employment”.
7) Wages and income
The decline of UK wages since 2010 is fourth worst of 27 Eurozone countries, falling 5.5 percent. Only the Greeks, Portuguese and Dutch fared worse. Spanish wages held up better, despite the depth of the economic crisis there.
8) Fuel poverty
UK is second worst for fuel poverty in Europe, just ahead of Estonia.
9) Affordability and the cost of living
UK has the highest rail prices in Europe. Since privatisation, fares increased by 107.1%, as against inflation of 68.3%.
UK is “third worst European country to raise families” due to household debt and childcare costs, according to Relationship Foundation.
Distrust in Britain’s political institutions is sharply rising:
Britain’s political parties are widely seen as reflecting the same interests as a result of the neoliberal consensus
As well as Westminster, other important British institutions are widely distrusted by its own population:
All graphs taken from: ‘The crisis of the British regime’.
Solutions and alternatives
UK inequality rose by 32% between 1960 and 2005. By contrast, it increased by just 23% in Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush-era. In Sweden it fell by 12%. (http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/research-digest-trends-measures-final.pdf)
Britain’s dire trends could worsen. Dailly, oddly, cites 2012 as a salad year for British living standards; but wage decline in Britain since 2010 has been the fourth worst in the EU (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23655605). In reality, the Tories are not engaged in a programme of economic recovery. Their real aims are ideological, and they hope to entrench neoliberal hegemony for the long-term. Workfare, scrapping benefits for under-25s, free schools, privatising the NHS, etc, are not isolated events: they are a new Tory experiment to transform society, building on Thatcher’s work.
This is an inter-generational crisis. The OECD is now warning that High levels of youth unemployment will lead to widespread poverty in old age as young people struggle to save for retirement.
The human consequences are stark, and avoidable. Last year, 31,000 died due to freezing conditions. This is no accident, and there is literally no need for pensions to choose between heating and eating this winter. Not with booming energy profits, or an £80 billion on Trident.
Voting No and crossing one’s fingers for a Labour victory in Westminster elections is no solution. Firstly, a No vote will embolden Britain’s neoliberal establishment, to make further cuts, to entrench geographical and social inequalities. By contrast, a Yes vote opens space – albeit briefly – for reshaping Scottish institutions, as the Common Weal and Radical Independence are showing. In politics, momentum is crucial. For the Left, momentum for changing society means a voting Yes, which challenges decades of neoliberal conformity.
A Yes vote means an end to Tory rule, and everything it stands for, in Scotland. A Labour government in 2015 will still be locked into the cuts agenda, Trident will stay on the Clyde, privatisation – much of it started by Blair-Brown – will continue. Corporate interests choke Westminster democracy; to shift that requires a mass opposition movement beyond parliament.
By breaking from UK PLC, we can set a better example for our partners in England. While the White Paper is far from a utopia, it protects welfare, disarms Britain of its nuclear weaponry, shuts Dungavel and offers free child care. It should have gone further; but can we imagine any of these commitments from British parties.
Dailly finishes by asking why the SNP have not established free childcare in Holyrood. That’s fair enough. But is this the best critique the Labour Left can imagine? Thousands are taking active part in the independence movement but remain critics of the SNP. Why? Because there is an audience willing to listen to alternatives to neoliberalism, something which Scottish Labour has not provided in years. Many years.
For the Left, eradicating poverty and the Tory regime are points of unity regardless of referendum rivalries. But now we can shape the future of a new country, instead of defending a legacy of failure, and offering more of the same. Britain betrays its people, the establishment around the City and Westminster do not deserve our obedience, and independence offers space for hope and alternatives. We have to face the facts: Britain isn’t working.
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