"Super-rich have doubled their money under Labour" was the headline in The Guardian on 8 December, as the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released a report graphically illustrating the widening gaps in wealth, assets and life expectancy.
Days later the Rowntree Centenary report Strategies Against Poverty was launched at the foundation’s conference. It is a shocking survey on the unrelieved miseries of Britain’s poor families and their inner-city neighbourhoods.
The ONS report said that nearly 600,000 individuals in the top 1% of the UK wealth league owned assets worth £355 billion in 1996, the last full year of Tory rule. By 2002 that had increased to £797 billion. The wealth of the super-rich has doubled since Tony Blair came to power.
The ONS figures showed the surge in wealth of the richest 1% in the UK from the final years of the Tory government under John Major. The top 1% increased their share of national wealth from 20% to 23% in the first six years of the New Labour government. On average, each individual in the top 1% is £737,000 better off now compared to just before Blair arrived in Downing Street.
Penny Babb, of the ONS, said the income gap between high and low earners was also widening. Since the mid-1990s the income of the poorest and richest 10% of the population grew at about the same pace – rising by over one-fifth. "However, these increases resulted in a rise of £119 per week for those near the top, compared with a rise of £28 per week for those near the bottom," she said. "This shows the absolute difference in average weekly income has continued to widen… The income distribution remains unequal. The top 10% received over a quarter of total income in 2002/03."
The gap in life expectancy has widened, the ONS report added. Thirty years ago men from poorer backgrounds died 5.5 years before their more prosperous contemporaries; now the gap is 7.5 years.
Donald Hirsch, a special adviser to the Rowntree Foundation, author of Strategies Against Poverty, spoke of: "Awareness that without action to deal with the corrosive consequences of deprivation, there is little hope of solving related problems such as drug cultures, crime and family breakdown that are fed by hopelessness".
The Rowntree report states that nearly twice as many people have relatively low incomes as 25 years ago! Millions are unable to afford basic necessities such as proper clothing and nutrition. And people’s prospects of escape from disadvantage have become more heavily influenced by geography, not less.
One in five children in England, Scotland and Wales are living in families receiving means-tested benefits where their parents or carers are not working. In 100 local authority wards with the worst concentrations of poverty, almost six in every ten children live in families relying on Income Support and other means-tested benefits.
No prizes for guessing that these wards, or districts, are to be found in Glasgow. Merseyside, London, Newcastle, South Wales, and so on. All those constituencies where Blair and his henchmen will take for granted that working people will vote New Labour!
The Rowntree report argues that only a modest share of economic growth in the next 20 years would need be redistributed to raise the ten million poorest people in Britain above the poverty threshold. In the face of the damning evidence laid before their York conference, the Rowntree Foundation calls for a ’road map’ to tackle poverty to be followed by Blair and New Labour!
After the usual ’hand wringing’ and pious protestations, the middle class ’do-gooders’ of this organisation, and its ilk, seek only to appeal to the better natures of the rich and powerful.
Lord Best, director of the foundation, declared: "On this special day in our history, we call on everyone who shares our concerns and priorities to work together towards common goals."
"Everyone", of course, does not include the poor themselves. Any agitation by this "everyone" amongst working people to improve matters themselves must be avoided at all costs. Improvements and progress are best regulated from above. Involving the workers may only cause them to draw the conclusion that the best way to tackle poverty is to overturn the society that produces these inequalities!
More passionate about politics
THE ONS report shows that the public is more passionate than ever about politics. It’s just elections that turn them off. In 1986 just 34% said they had signed a petition. By 2002, 43% said they had. In the mid-1980s around 6% had been on a protest march. By 2002, ie even before the biggest anti-war protests, that had risen to 12%.
Except for voting, "civic participation in Britain increased from the mid-1980s to 2000, with a peak in the early 1990s," the report claims. The early 1990s was the era of the huge anti-poll tax demonstrations in Britain, led by supporters of Militant, the Socialist Party’s predecessor.