The little people

Inequality in the UK declined steadily from 1918 until the late 70s, and since then has climbed, under Tory and Labour governments, until it is approaching 1918 levels. Having said that, the 1% are a large group, 600,000 people in the UK, and their income goes down to £120,000 a year. I have socialised with some. Some are friends of friends. Above £120,000, incomes and wealth shoot upwards exponentially.

When I consider the Leveson inquiry, it is striking that commentary and rhetoric I read come at the issue from the interests of the Powerful against the Little People. The Press should be regulated, because they are in the ownership of the Multinational Super-rich, like Rupert Murdoch. Or, they should be left unregulated, because they investigate what the Wealthy want to keep private, in the interests of the Plain Man. The Sun reports that the Ministry of Defence has spent £7,440 on medical treatment ancillary to gender reassignment in the last thirty months, (nod to Jane Fae). Their line is that blundering civil servants are spending money badly, and that trannies are ridiculous, our “sex swaps” fake, rather than that the MoD has spent sensibly, in order to retain the services of valuable employees. They claim a decisive influence in our elections. It seems to me that the “Little people”- ie, me- will lose out whatever Leveson does. And while Captain Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia has done dishonourable things, I dislike the focus of the media- BBC as well as the Murdoch press- on him rather than on the corporate culture and structures, or perhaps the sheer bad luck and accumulating circumstances, behind those deaths. I distrust journalists picking on the easy targets.

In other ways I am incredibly prosperous and powerful, compared say to those maimed by American mines in Cambodia, or choking on the fumes of the Chinese factories which produce the consumer goods I buy. If the 1% is not the 600,000 in the UK, but the seventy million in the World as a whole, I have far more affinity, resemblance, and commonality of interests to that group, or the lower half of it, than to the bottom billion.

While I may have that affinity, not everyone in the UK has. Worship on Sunday was interrupted by a homeless man. B. gave him a mug of coffee and listened to him, but did not have one herself or invite him to sit down. He had walked seven miles from the night shelter, which is always full. He had slept outside and had a sleeping bag, clothes and the mobile phone his brother gave him to keep in touch stolen, he said. His former girlfriend will not put him up, but does allow him to launder his clothes at her house. There is no night shelter in our town, so people have to go sixteen miles, and cannot afford transport.

I spoke to a few people, and none of us have seen beggars in our town. One Social Services department I came across wanted to shut down the charity soup runs in the city centre. They said such services made homelessness bearable, and so prevented people from using services to get out of that situation. Perhaps the lack of services here drives the homeless elsewhere.

We do have a day centre for vulnerable homeless people (are there any other kind?). Angela is going to do a sponsored sleep-out this month, and they have got funding from Lloyds-TSB bank for three years, corporate funding in this isolated case replacing the funding the government is cutting. They do hot lunches, provide showers, and people drop in to socialise. They are open four days a week.

Despite the cuts, the Government is borrowing for public spending in a downturn, classic Keynesianism. The percentage of GDP they would spend is only very slightly different from the percentage in the plans of the Opposition.

3 thoughts on “The little people

  1. Thank you for your article, Clare.

    I am saddened to hear that the same old argument is trotted out by our officials, that if we provide services to make destitution bearable, our downtrodden citizens will not seek the help of more formal services. This is the same argument that officials used to justify harshness in the workhouse – if we make it too comfortable we are encouraging laziness – and used by those citizens who refuse to hand out a pound to beggars on the street, “I know people like these – believe me – and all they want is money for drugs and alcohol. I never give to them, but to charities instead. So much more respectable.”

    These arguments will always be trotted out by the well healed to justify doing nothing. Like the salacious press which always manages to find a seam of welfare scroungers, to suggest that if eastern european mothers end up wearing oxfam castoffs in a freezing corner of our leafy suburb, it is firmly their fault, because “everyone knows” they could do something about it.

    But the laws of Universal Compassion and Love start with Me. I CAN make a decision on a case by case basis. I do not give money to abuse drunks with big dogs and a foul reputation, But I can and do give money, a scarf and coat and conversation to the seventeen year old who looks clean, tidy and cold and reminds me of a school friend. Always, we have the right to decide for ourselves.

    Ann xox 🙂


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