Socialist Worker

Divided Britain’s growing inequality

Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at Sheffield University, spoke to Socialist Worker about his new book on the state of poverty in Britain today

Issue No. 2203


If the Tories get away with their huge public spending cuts, they will drive up poverty and unemployment.

A new book emphasises how inequality has increased dramatically in the last 30 to 40 years under Tory and Labour governments alike. Injustice: Why social inequality persists is a powerful explanation of this trend by Danny Dorling.

“There has been a big rise already,” Danny Dorling told Socialist Worker. “The last two years have seen the sharpest rise in inequality.

“Poverty and unemployment have risen in the poorest areas while the rich have been the least affected by the recession.”

In fact, many of them have seen their share of wealth massively increase.

“The 1,000 richest people in Britain became 30 percent richer in the last year. That’s a £77 billion rise in wealth—enough to wipe out around half the government’s budget deficit.

“It’s really important to recognise how much inequality was rising and wealth at the top was expanding before the election.

“If a Tory government had presided over this there would have been an outcry.”

Richest

Incredibly, as Danny puts it, “If the wealth of the rich continues to grow at the same rate, in 23 years the richest 1,000 will have the wealth of the planet in their hands.”

Danny’s work throws light on Labour’s failures over inequality during its 13 years in office.

He said, “Labour is convinced that it decreased inequality, particularly for children. Leading figures in the party get very upset if you say that they didn’t. It is true that some inequalities decreased, but only by Labour’s own particular measure.

“This states that a child is in poverty if his or her family lives on or below 60 percent of the median (average) income. So Labour managed to decrease child poverty—by tipping children just over the 60 percent level.

“There are no seismic shifts here. If a child goes from living in a family on 59 percent of the average income to 61 percent then they’re officially out of poverty.

“But as far as these children are concerned they are poorer than many other people. Above them, others are becoming richer as the wealth gap widens. When Labour hit these targets it missed the point.

“One area it was successful in was schools and education. It doubled state spending per child in state schools. It wasn’t a completely careless government but it did some terrible things.

“The problem at the heart of New Labour was the belief in competition in all areas. Even in a time of plenty the decision to extend competition was made.

“The three main parties are remarkably similar—and Labour took us a quarter way towards the inequality levels of the US.”

The starkness of the injustice has created huge questioning about the state of society.

Danny said, “I found a quote from an economist who complains that the best-selling economic books in Europe are anti-capitalist books. These are popular books. I put all this together when writing Injustice.

Danger

“But there’s a danger we write lots about how awful the system is but don’t do anything about it.

“This is certainly different from the 1970s and 1990s. Now if you say that inequality is wrong that’s become a normal view to hold.

“Governments and people who don’t think like this are in an increasing minority that includes just them. Problems don’t disappear, they transform.

“Look at the great steps forward we have seen. Votes for women didn’t bring in a utopia but it was much better than when there wasn’t a vote for women.

“My hope is that what begins is that people at the top wean themselves off the idea they are superior.

“It’s easier for the 38 percent of young people who go to university now to think, ‘I’m not stupid and shouldn’t be struggling’.

“This is in contrast to three generations ago when only 1 percent went to university.”

Danny is positive about the possibility of change:

“I think it is possible for things to get better. One agent of change is objective factors, such as the frequency of economic crises and the consumption rates under capitalism.

“But there are all kinds of nightmare scenarios and the system we have now won’t necessarily be replaced with anything better.

“The question is—at what point will large numbers of people realise that the continuation of the present is impossible?

“We’ve only just got to the point where five out of six children in the world are literate.

“Most of their parents are not. It is also the case that these children’s children will probably almost all have access to the internet in the future.

“We won’t know what will happen when this change occurs. We’re in the middle of it.

“What people do makes a difference. So if you write a letter to a newspaper defending immigration, you have taken up the space where an anti-immigrant letter could have been.

“Many little actions like that can build up into a louder chorus.

“We’re in a space where different things are possible. We can feed everyone on the planet, and many other changes have occurred that you couldn’t haven’t predicted 40 years ago. So there is a lot of potential for change.”

Danny Dorling will be speaking at this year’s Marxism festival: » www.marxismfestival.co.uk

Injustice: Why social inequality persists by Danny Dorling is available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, for £19.99. Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to » www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk


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Features
Tue 25 May 2010, 18:07 BST
Issue No. 2203
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