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Proletarian issue 34 (Februrary 2010)
Editorial: Extremes of rich and poor in capitalist Britain
Labour’s ‘Equality’ minister Harriet Harman got more than she bargained for when she commissioned an investigation into social inequality in Britain. Far from showing Labour making good on its promises to heal the divisions in society, the report by Professor Hills of the London School of Economics paints a shocking picture of the intensifying polarisation of wealth and poverty in Britain under Tory and Labour rule alike.

Looking at the population as a whole, the professor has put on record that the richest 10 percent are now more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10 percent. And with each new generation, this sharpening class division is more pronounced, as the report eloquently testifies:

The evidence we have looked at shows the long arm of people’s origins in shaping their life chances, stretching through life stages, literally from cradle to grave. Differences in wealth in particular are associated with opportunities such as the ability to buy houses in the catchment areas of the best schools or to afford private education, with advantages for children that continue through and beyond education. At the other end of life, wealth levels are associated with stark differences in life expectancy after 50.

In a masterpiece of understatement, the report notes that Labour is a “very long way” from keeping its 2001 promise that “within 10 to 20 years no one should be seriously disadvantaged by where they live” – as anyone struggling to bring up children on a poverty-stricken, demoralised and crime-infested estate will readily attest. It will be no surprise to them to learn that in the most deprived 10 percent of areas the median hourly wage is a full 40 percent lower than in the least deprived 10 percent.

Further, as the slump burdens are heaped on the back of workers, the racial divisions cultivated within imperialist society also intensify, subjecting ethnic minorities to a double oppression. When the report measured the income of Pakistani and Bangladeshi muslim men and black African christian men against that of white British christian men with the same qualifications, age and job description, the former’s income was found to be between 13 percent and 21 percent lower. Indeed, nearly half of all Bangladeshi and Pakistani households are stranded below the poverty line.

In vain, Harriet Harman went on the Today programme to protest that “It takes generations to make things more equal.” On the contrary, the inherent laws of capitalism see to it that things become even more unequal with time, as the bourgeoisie, under the pressure of competition, struggles unremittingly to reduce labour costs.

Worried by the glowing example and growing prestige of the Soviet Union in workers’ eyes, the post-war ruling class set about softening some of the more glaring inequalities in capitalist society, using a fraction of its imperialist superprofits to fund the construction of a welfare state. Yet, real though some of the ensuing benefits have been to workers, this could only ever be a temporary fix for workers under capitalism. Now that overproduction crisis has capitalism by the throat, and the Soviet Union no longer poses the threat of a good example, the working class stands to see its position in society pushed down further and further – and not over a space of generations either.

Professor Hills stated that the level of income disparity between rich and poor in Britain already yawned wider in 2007/08 than it had done at any time since the immediate aftermath of World War Two. Let nobody suppose that the downward pressure will stop there. It will do us no good to pray for the return of Clem Attlee and the supposed golden age of ‘old’ Labour. We should instead recall the words of Joseph Stalin: “Either eke out a miserable existence and sink lower and lower, or adopt a new weapon. That is the choice imperialism puts before the working class. Imperialism brings the proletariat to revolution.
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