Socialist Worker

Divided between wealthy and poor

Issue No. 1670

WEEKS AFTER Tony Blair proclaimed at Labour's conference that the class struggle is over, a damning new report shows that class division has never been greater in Britain. The survey was based on four million households across Britain. It shows that after two years of Labour in office inequality is growing. For a few there is immense wealth and opulence. For the majority there is insecurity and either very real poverty or the threat of poverty.

The statistics are collected by postcode. Much of the press have claimed that the biggest division is geographical, between the north and south of England or between England and Scotland. But a close study of the report demolishes that idea. It demonstrates that in every part of Britain there is a rich elite and poor people who are spurned by their rich neighbours.

The wealthiest areas in Britain are in London - Temple, Blackfriars, Barbican and Belgravia. But London boroughs like Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Southwark and Islington also contain some of the most deprived areas of Britain Britain's five poorest towns are Sunderland, Sheffield, Truro, Plymouth and Swansea, all with an average household income of less than £18,000. But each of these towns has pockets of wealth. Some commentators regard Norwich in East Anglia as the model of 'Middle England'. But the survey shows that it had the third slowest rate of wage increase in Britain and a household income well below the average.

Scotland, far from being a united nation, is bitterly divided. The richest area is Murrayfield in Edinburgh, where almost one in four households get more than £50,000 a year. They include a string of judges and business chiefs - including David Murray. He is the chairman of Rangers football club and a close ally of New Labour.

The poorest area in Scotland is Dalmarnock in Glasgow where 81 percent of households have a total household income of less than £13,000. Within Glasgow itself there are vast inequalities. A part of Pollokshields rates as the eighth richest area in Scotland. But the city also records the ten poorest areas in the country.

Peter Hunter, director of the Scottish Low Pay Unit, says, 'There are definitely two worlds in Scotland and the situation is getting worse. The minimum wage at £3.60 an hour is barely more than the level of benefits. There are people at the other end of the spectrum who can earn £3.60 in a minute. We have to look at benefit and pension levels too. They are only being increased by 1.1 percent.'

A spokesman for CACI, the marketing firm that produced the report, was guarded in drawing wider political implications from the figures. But he did say, 'The argument has been made that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. There are political parties and pressure groups that are not satisfied with the official government case. They suggest that the economic boom is an illusion. Many also contend that the encouraging broad brush statistics cover a worrying trend towards an increasing polarisation.'

The government's only weapon against poverty is to force people into jobs. But low paid work does not end the suffering. Over 80 percent of households in central Middlesbrough, Leicester, Liverpool's Edge Hill, Birkenhead and Bootle exist on less than £13,000 a year - £250 a week. This is not because these people are 'workshy'. It is not even that they are all on benefits.

Many of these households have people working in them but the jobs are at around the minimum wage level - £144 a week before tax for 40 hours. This would leave even a household with two full time workers in trouble and living in another world from the fat cats Labour loves to praise. New Labour claims to govern in the interests of everyone. But this report shows that its policies are favouring the rich and condemning the poor.


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News
Sat 30 Oct 1999, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1670
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