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Wednesday, 14 August 2013 00:00

Britain is flush with cash - we just have to take it

by Richard Lynch

GMB Hendon rep Richard Lynch maps out the gulf between the working class and the super-rich in modern Britain

The gap between the income and wealth of the super-rich and the rest of us in Britain has been growing for the past 30 years.

It is now wider than ever, thanks to the coalition putting the squeeze on working people and the poor while at the same time giving tax cuts to millionaires and big business.

We have paid, and continue to pay, a high price for this in the past few years in terms of jobs, pay and living standards.

Over two and a half million people are out of work - 900,000 more than at the start of the recession - and an average of five people are chasing every job vacancy.

Almost three million more - 10 per cent of the working population - are underemployed in enforced part-time, casual, fixed-term and zero-hours contract jobs.

The wages of millions more have been frozen or cut, and the pay rises that do exist average only 1 per cent a year - roughly a third of inflation.

Real, after-inflation wages are 7.5 per cent lower than at the the start of the recession, according to the TUC, pushing people's living standards to their lowest level in a decade.

Oxfam puts the number of British people living in poverty at 13.5 million, with the number of children in absolute poverty soaring by 300,000 in the past year to 2.6 million.

This has driven people in need to take out 8 million new loans with payday lenders in the past year including notorious predator Wonga, which charges interest rates of up to 5,853 per cent a year.

Over half a million families a year are having to use charity food banks to keep body and soul together.

But the rich face no such problems and their wealth continues to increase, breaking all pre-recession records.

Britain, the world's seventh-richest country, now has the fourth-highest number of millionaires and billionaires, according to the Boston Consulting Group's most recent global wealth report.

The Royal Bank of Canada and Cap Gemini say the number of Britain's millionaires increased by 5.4 per cent to 465,000 in the past year.

And according to the Sunday Times Rich List the wealth of the richest 1,000 people in the country increased by 8 per cent in 2012 to a record £450 billion - equivalent to the annual earnings of two-thirds of the entire British workforce, and to the total amount of tax collected annually by HM Revenue and Customs.

The number of taxpayers paid more than £1 million a year has increased from 10,000 to a record 18,000 in the past two years, with a high proportion of them in a banking industry which did more than anybody else to push the country into recession five years ago.

FTSE 100 chief executives have also been raking it in, with a 10 per cent increase last year taking their earnings to an average of £4.25m, according to a recent survey by Manifest and MM&K.

That's over £11,500 a day and is 185 times the earnings of the average British worker.

Much of this obscene wealth is down to industrial-scale tax avoidance and evasion by the super-rich and big business.

Yet despite this taxes for high earners and companies are being cut, more and more services are being outsourced to the private sector, wages are being driven down and employment rights are being reduced - all to make the rich even richer at the expense of the rest of us.

This tale of two nations gives the lie to coalition assertions that we are all in it together and that those with the broadest shoulders are making the greatest contribution to reducing government debt.

It also undermines the claim that there is no alternative to austerity, to cutting back what Cameron calls "our bloated welfare state."

There is no shortage of money in Britain, but it is mainly in the hands of a selfish and super-rich elite who are happy to make the rest of us pay for the fallout from recession while they continue to increase their wealth as if the recession had never happened.

If we allow this to continue they will continue to drive down living standards, undermine the welfare state and wreck the NHS, education, the benefits system, pensions and local services - all of which will take decades to repair.

We must step up our resistance to their attacks, refuse to participate in attempts to scapegoat benefit claimants, immigrants and others, and direct our anger at the coalition, the fat cats and big business who are ripping us off and enriching themselves at our expense.

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